A novel set over the course of one day in the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, focusing on a disgraced former rabbi, now investment banker, and his family, who get caught up in the protests which erupt in the wake of a cop shooting a young black boy in a nearby park.
Bed-Stuy is Burning balances the multiple layers of stories going on with great success ... Platzer captures these characters and their stories in a convincing and, ultimately, compassionate way. It’s this kind of delicate handling that makes Bed-Stuy is Burning work so well ... While Platzer’s novel is undoubtedly a good one, the tension does get a bit overwhelming in the second half, and the pacing is a little too quick in sections. The thrills, too, extend longer than necessary. These, though, are minor qualms. Bed-Stuy is Burning, with its diverse voices and sincere depiction of the fight for social equality, is a mighty fine debut from a writer to watch.
The violent standoff between the mob and those inside the building is riveting, full of cliffhanger chapter endings and surprise twists ... Mr. Platzer deftly swivels among the clashing points of view, and the climax, in which Aaron returns to disperse the crowd with an improvised sermon, is powerfully done. But the scene is vexing as well. To Aaron, the sermon is his wake-up call to return to the rabbinate. But that it casts him in the role of the redeemed hero highlights just how much he and Amelia have dominated a novel whose flashpoint is police violence against African-Americans ... Mr. Platzer is a direct and revealing observer of the habit white Americans have of making themselves the centerpieces of other peoples’ stories. Yet even in this novel, the gentrifiers have still managed to claim the choicest real estate.
To say that Bed-Stuy Is Burning is ambitious would be like saying Taylor Swift is popular. Platzer takes on topics as big as God, money, parenthood, marriage, gentrification and police violence. But this level of ambition can leave a story unfocused, or worse, focused in the wrong direction ... What black characters we do encounter never fully emerge past their plainly drawn biographical sketches ... The descriptions of nonwhite characters range from lazy and stereotypical ('She was Asian and very skinny') to outright offensive ('The man was Indian. Dot not feather,' the extortionist notes). Worse than that is how many characters go without description. These are the black residents of Bed-Stuy ... The most generous reading of Bed-Stuy Is Burning takes its inadequate interest in its black characters as a larger comment on the way these kinds of stories typically sideline black people’s narratives. But the earnestness with which the white characters are portrayed frustrates that generosity ... this is ultimately a novel about black people happening to white people.