A former police detective's addictions jeopardize a murder case in this iconic queer writer's return to pulp fiction with a book that gives equal attention to unraveling the central mystery and larger issues of white privilege, racism, and gentrification.
While [Schulman's first crime novel] The Sophie Horowitz Story was set during the conservative Reagan era amid the escalation of the AIDS crisis, Maggie Terry is concerned with hyper-contemporary issues such as the Trump presidency and movements such as Black Lives Matter. This melding of classic form with contemporary concerns indicates not only a revitalization but a reconstruction of the lesbian crime genre ... the initial premise of the genre collapses, and in its place Schulman constructs a different kind of story, one in which victimhood is reversed and the protagonist must become accountable for her actions and privilege. Schulman tackles the topic of NYPD police brutality head-on ... if there were a Venn diagram for privilege, Terry would be at the center. She represents the force of oppressive power. She is a WASP from the 'rotting privileged class.' She is infused with 'privilege, arrogance, and superiority.' To top it all off Terry is notably blonde, attractive, white, and normative looking. Schulman lays it on pretty thick, and doesn’t hold back her contempt for the ignorance and entitlement stereotypically associated with the upper class ... Traversing the personal to the sociopolitical, Shulman’s latest offers a strikingly rich portrait of lesbian identity, as well as a smart treatise on how an once righteous 'outsider' can end up at odds with the vital ideals of justice and equity for those who need it most.
Opening with the collapse of American politics and community, Schulman weaves disintegration throughout the novel, from the destruction of Maggie’s old self, to the loss of the corner grocer, the deaths of her ex-partner, her boss’s son, an unarmed street hustler, and the nameless actress, to the disappearance of her beloved city’s diversity, now a bland homage to homelessness and white gentrification ... For genre mystery fans Maggie Terry may disappoint. Minimal sleuthing is involved in the case of the dead actress, and what detective work there is involves Maggie leaping from one snap judgment to another. For readers interested in the deeper mysteries of human relationships, Maggie Terry delivers, with Schulman addressing the more trenchant mystery of how people and communities rebuild themselves after ruin.
Maggie Terry is a compelling read, something that captures something essential of life in New York in this modern era, but it’s got a few flaws that keep me from giving it a full recommendation. There are bobbles in the writing, such as when someone is described as 'As smooth as lube for ladies,' that pulled me up short, and there are some tropetastic moments that just weigh it down. Yet it is so engaging, so interesting in several very vital ways that the reader might find it worthwhile to seek out anyway ... While the novel tries to properly shed some light on Maggie’s white privilege while trying to explore the mindset of police officers, it puts far, far too much sympathy on [police officer] Eddie’s side of the case [of police violence], and while an ex-cop like Maggie might feel that way about it since she’s personally involved, this portion of the book isn’t illuminating and often comes off as simplistic and relying on white savior tropes ... ultimately, I have too many reservations about certain aspects of the storyline to be able to recommend it.