The Short and Tragic
Life of Robert Peace

 

 

 

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is at once a beautifully written tribute to a departed friend, a meticulously reported investigation of one man’s life and death, and a densely researched exposé of the racial and economic divides that rend our country and our lives. It’s a love story, at heart – not a romance, but a book compelled by intense sorrow at unexpected loss, a loss that sends its author on a quest for understanding. Jeff Hobbs, a novelist by training, writes a vivid, particular account, rendered in painstaking detail, that speaks to the larger existential dilemma that lies at the heart of the search for human understanding: How can we know a person so well, and yet at the same time know them so little? Unable to help or save his own friend, Hobbs’ account vividly illustrates some of the entrenched social problems – especially poverty, drugs, and racism – that must be overcome if we sincerely believe that all lives matter.

Devastated by the loss of the man who was his college roommate for four years, Hobbs embarked on a Herculean task of trying to figure out how his gifted friend could wind up another victim of our nation’s drug wars. “I sought out anyone who might have a shred of perspective not only on Rob’s direct experiences but also on the places and structures that informed those experiences,” the author says in his introductory Note. Hobbs’ investigation humanizes its subjects, reveals the impact of both race and class within strongly delineated portraits of Newark and Yale University, and challenges typical American notions of social mobility and individual reinvention. This complex portrait of a complicated man living in a contradictory time and place explores the intersections of race, class, gender, poverty, urban decay, politics and education in turn-of-the-century America. Choosing knowledge over alienation, Hobbs stares down the notion that we are all strangers to each other. He does this without ever preaching or pontificating. He assiduously follows that Day 1 writing rule: show, don’t tell. The devil is in the details in this compelling narrative that turns a trope – young promise cut short – into over 400 riveting pages. “Much of this material is subjective, but so is any human life,” Hobbs writes.

- Evelyn McDonnell
2015 finalist judge


2015 Nonfiction Runner-Up

Jeff Hobbs, photo credit Nicole Caldwell
Jeff Hobbs

(Click photo to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)

Jeff Hobbs
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

 

“To believe that peace is achieved through understanding is insufficient, because understanding can only occur following the abandonment of the charged, often invisible preconceptions we all bring to the judgment of others. Individuals, races, classes -- no person or group of people experiences a given moment in the same way. So often, that difficult and essential gap between event and perception is forgotten -- or ignored. Storytelling has the capacity to perpetuate such amnesia, but at its best can help correct it. There are so many people, such as Rob Peace, whose stories can contribute to the cause of peace.”

— Jeff Hobbs                        

Jeff Hobbs graduated with a BA in English language and literature from Yale in 2002. The author of The Tourists, a national bestselling novel, Hobbs lives with his wife and two children in Los Angeles, where he is working on his second book of nonfiction while also speaking to high school and college students across the country.

 

 
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