Red Baker, by Robert Ward … I picked this up the day Ben Whitmer suggested it on Facebook. He thought I’d enjoy it and he was right. I absolutely did enjoy it. Originally penned 25 years ago, Red Baker drops an exclamation mark on what so many blue (and now white) collar workers across this country are experiencing—the loss of their jobs, whether through technology, outsourcing or in- country cheap labor (not to mention a steady decrease in salary in a country that likes to boast about how good everyone has it here—we’re talking 30 consecutive years of a decline in wages for the middle and poor classes).
Red Baker is a Baltimore steel worker suddenly out of work and faced with a bleaker than usual future (this time it doesn’t look as though the jobs are coming back). Red has a wife and son … the boy has some genuine talents (basketball and guitar among them) … his wife was once the most sort after girl in high school and there are resentments in town about Red landing her as his wife … but lately Red has noticed the flaws in his wife (her arms are showing loose skin where they used to be tight) … and he’s kind of fallen for the midlife crisis other woman, a stripper at a local club run by an eye-talian wannabe gangster and his misfit crew … Red also has a rough and tough best friend he’s known and shared his life with since they were kids … and when both lose their jobs at the steel mill, times get a lot tougher. At 39 years of age, when the layoffs are no longer temporary, Red and his fellow workers are left feeling cheated by a failed American dream. Now that they’re out of work, they need to release the excess energy that can drive men over the edge … so they drink and pop pills and take jobs parking cars ... and do everything one can imagine to ignore what their lives are fast becoming (as obsolete as the machinery in the mill that just closed down) … but underneath it all, Red is a decent man … one who still loves his family, but has been cast aside for following that dream he invested so much of his life into … a dream that has failed him and so many others in his community.
I loved the Americana/nostalgia in this book … an entire rift on the Honeymooners (with repeat visits), and why men find it funny as opposed to most women (especially when the men are feeling completely shitty about themselves/circumstances) … escapism, Chef of the Future style …
Author Robert Ward deserves the same applause today he deserved 25 years ago (see Booklist *STARRED* Review below). This is a terrific read, Amici … one I’d recommend high schools put on their reading lists so some of today’s youngin’s understand not just what happened to their parents and grandparents world, but what’s happening to their world, no matter what shade of collar they intend to wear in the ever decreasing workforce. HIGHLY RECOMMENED … SO GET IT NOW AND GET IT HERE:
Booklist *Starred Review* … The acclaimed TV series The Wire may have recently inclined the public’s imagination toward the mean streets of Baltimore, but back in 1985, Ward wrote a stunning novel that has loomed large in the imaginations of writers exploring Charm City (or “Balmere”) ever since. It’s 1983, Red Baker is 39, and his employer, Larmel Steel, has just laid off 60 percent of its workers—including him and his best friend, Dog. The mill seems likely to close for good. Baker and his coworkers, held together by steady paychecks and a sense of purpose, are unmoored and unmanned. As they stand in line for nonexistent jobs, it’s stunning, if unsurprising, how quickly they begin to crumble. Drinking heavily, flying on speed, Baker fantasizes about fleeing to Florida with his stripper girlfriend, Crystal; even though he knows he’s alienating his wife and teenage son, he can’t help himself. Inexorably, his desperation leads to a tragic act of crime. But calling Red Baker a crime novel is like saying Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes is a book about football. Ward’s genius is that he has created a character who makes all the wrong choices and knows it, yet readers will identify with him so closely that they’ll be hard-pressed to say they would have done anything differently. Ward’s prose is direct and muscular, and his story is both painful and enthralling. Now, 25 years later, the tough, male world of the novel may seem as antiquated as that depicted in Martin Scorsese’s film Mean Streets, but this book remains urgently relevant. Factories still close, and men and women with “nontransferrable skills” still search for new employment, for meaning, and for a sense of self. —Keir Graff
Check out the working man/woman tunes at the bottom of the post …
Speaking of books, amici, Saturday is the official book launch of Dana King’s, Grind Joint. If you can’t make it to the launch itself, order it pronto because this one really sings. It’s catching high praise from authors like Jack Getze and John McFetridge (two great writers themselves) …
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Coffee & Crime author breakfast at 10 am
Dana King grew up in Lower Burrell, about ten miles from Oakmont. The fictional town of Penns River, where Grind Joint takes place, is an amalgam of Lower Burrell, New Kensington, and Arnold, so there is a local angle in inviting this author to come to Mystery Lovers to present Grind Joint, his brand new Mafia crime thriller.
A new casino is opening in the rural town of Penns River, Pennsylvania but just where the money is coming from no one really knows. When the body of a drug dealer is dumped on the casino steps shortly before its grand opening, Detectives Ben “Doc” Dougherty and Willie Grabek have figure out not only who’s behind the murder, but what it means. Grind Joint is a mesmerizing mix of betrayal, police action, small town politics, sudden violence and the lives of the people of a town just trying to look after itself.
Mystery Lovers loves to take a gamble on introducing new authors to our customers. You can bet this one will be a local winner. To quote the late Leighton Gage: You’re going to be surprised and delighted. It’s a great book, and I recommend it unreservedly.
Join us for coffee, pastries and conversation with Dana King. The event is free, but reservations are suggested. Call us at 412-828-4877, or use our Contact Form to let us know you are coming.
Momma Stella and Annie's Kool-Aid too sweet gravy Lasagna …
Me: Ma, I brought you some lasagna.
MS: Oooh, nice, Sonny.
Me: It’s Annie’s, so the gravy is a little too sweet.
MS: I like Annie’s gravy.
Me: Mine’s better.
MS: Says you.
Me: Wait, listen … (farts)
MS: You’re a real moron, you know that?
Me: I know. The Rangers lost to the Devils again.
MS: Really? Who gives a shit?
Me: Didn’t you watch the game?
MS: Yeah, right. Go scratch your ass. Where’s my lasagna?
Me: Sure, that’s all I’m good for.
MS: Pretty much, yeah.
Me: Ma, but I’m your sonny boy!
MS: You’re a lunatic. I don’t know how Annie puts up with you.
Me: Must be my charm. (farts again)
MS: One day you’re gonna shit your pants, you stupid bastid.
Me: (sets her lasagna on her tray). There, Annie’s Kool-Aid sweet gravy lasagna.
MS: Go take a walk. I like Annie’s gravy. You use too many onions.
Me: I don’t use too much onions, Paulie. Name that movie and win a cookie.
MS: The hell are you talkin’ about, you stupid ass?
Me: Goodfellas. That’s where that line comes from.
MS: Yeah? Who cares?
Me: I’m heading up north this weekend. MFA reunion.
MS: Yeah, good. Go now. Hurry.
Me: Wait, listen. (farts)
MS: (shakes her head, looks up at the ceiling) Lord, help him, please.
Me: You gonna watch the game tonight? Colts-Titans.
MS: Go home already, please. (she eats some lasagna) Mmmm, this is delicious. Tell Annie I love it.
Me: You’re just saying that to annoy me.
Me: It’s too sweet and you know it.
MS: (flips me the bird) You gonna go now?
I love my Mommy!
This week in the NFL … We were 9-5 last week (with the spread) … 10-4 in my wife’s office pool (and I lost to another woman who picks, like my wife, according to how pretty the “costumes” are) … oy vey.
Bills Note: My son, Dustin, informs me of the following: Our beloved New York State Buffalo Bills have been ripped off by the league’s schedule makers for two consecutive years … we have the most games played against teams coming off a bye week rest … and guess who doesn’t play a single game against bye-week teams? That’s right, Kraft’s Choketriots … the Cheatriots have Tom Brady rules for games and now the schedule makers are on their side … I can hardly wait for them to choke in the playoffs yet again.
Okay, so my LOCK OF THE WEEK last week was flushed down the toilet along with our running and passing game vs. the Steelerettes, but this week I feel it in my bones, amici …
The Coltless would like to beat up on the Tennesee Tuxedos, but both teams are coming off embarrassing defeats … still, take the Coltless and lay the points (-3.5) … Colts 27, Titans 14. So far tonight this one is going down the toilet too … oy friggin’ vey.
The Y-E-T-S, Yets, Yets, Yets come to Buffalo (or return to New York) for a beating at Orchard Park … well, I’d sure like to believe that, but it won’t happen … not with the way E. J. played last week … Take the Yets and lay the points (-1.5), 27-20.
The Bengalis will defeat the Brownettes (24-13). Lay the 5.5 and take the Bengalis.
In the toilet bowl stinker of the week, it’s a pick’em between the Texas Two Steppers and the Raiderettes … we like Oakland (because Texas burned me in my wife’s office pool last week), Take the 7.5 and the Raiders, 27-17 … +7.5? Are they kidding us? THIS IS, IN FACT, TK’S LOCK OF THE WEEK PICK … mortgage the house and bet your In-Knucks-We-Trust-Bucks on the Raiders!
The Washingtonians were made fools of by the uptempo offense of the Dog Killers in week 1. This week’ll be a little different, but not much … take the Dog Killers and lay the 3.5, 24-17.
The Chargerless will roll over the hapless Dolphinations … San Diego squishes the fish and the -1.5, 30-17.
The Vikings will make a game of it against the Sea Pigeons, so take the points (+13.5) in the Sea Pigeons 24-21 squeaker.
The Chefs at the Broncettes … it’s supposed to be the big deal game of the week but I say that’s in Buffalo, MFer’s … the Broncettes are laying the wood in this one (-7.5) … take the Chefs and the points because down goes Peyton … Chefs 24-20.
The Wes Cravens aren’t up to back-to-back wins yet … but the Cubbies aren’t worth -3.5 … Take the Cravens and the points in a stunner, 20-18.
The Steelerettes will catch a beating from Detroit this week. Laying 2.5 is nothing in this one … Lions 30-17.
The Cardinals by way of St. Louis and Phoenix are still too tough for the Jagwires … Cards laying 6.5 win easy, 24-14.
The Bucs and Falconless are a pick … the Bucs make it two in a row over the Falconless, 17-14.
6.5 is a lot of wood to lay for the Moonachie Blue team, but the Packing Company has a HUGE question mark at QB, the G-men, just cover, 27-20.
Wow, the 40-whiners at the Aints … what a game this should be … TK says pick’em and we will, the 49’ers and the 3.5, 9’ers win outright, 24-23.
And in the Kraft game of the week on Monday night … the Choketriots are getting 2.5 … Brady on Monday night with Kraft paying off the refs +2.5 … we’ll take the Pantherless … why? Because they eat cheaters for breakfast. Panthers 30, Kraft’s Choketriots, 20.
Merle Haggard … Working Man Blues …
The Last Internationale … Workers of the World Unite …