February 20, 2013
I have an immense amount of respect for authors who can write about ordinary people’s ordinary lives and make them interesting. Only good writers can do this, and this author is one such person.
Lost in Seattle is about Willie, a man in his fifties who lost his engineering job and suddenly found himself one of the long term unemployed, trying to get by on temporary work at the lower end of the employment market. The book gives a vivid portrayal of what life in the USA is like for those who drift from one temp job to another, or who work in unskilled, lowly paid jobs. The jobs are boring, tiring and sometimes dangerous, and the companies running them don’t care about the workers. News headlines provide a depressing economic and political commentary that underscores the reality of Willie’s life and provokes impassioned comment from his coworkers. We are left in no doubt about the feelings of alienation felt by these underpaid workers. The politicians have left them in the lurch. The country belongs to the rich. No one cares about the workers. The only way Willie can get by is by putting everything on his credit card, and the more debt he accrues, the more credit cards he is offered. The whole system is stuffed.
The book isn’t as depressing as this makes it sound, however, because Willie finds friends amongst people who would never have rubbed shoulders with had he not been unemployed – a group of Vietnamese and an African American. There is also a love interest.
We meet Willie several years after he has divorced his wife as he takes on yet another temp job at hideously low wages. The beginning of the book grabbed me with a horrific accident in a bakery. A man loses his hand. Willie helps him and they become friends. George is just one of the threads that weaves together to make this story. Lawyers take the stage and offer Willie a job if he’ll give a statement that will make it look like George was high on drugs and therefore culpable for the accident. The book shows us how difficult it is to make the moral decision when you’re owing 40,000 on credit card. George continues to raise moral issues for Willie and adds a lot of tension of the ‘will he get caught’ variety.
Then there is Alice, the sculptor, who adds a bit of spice to Willie’s life, and Mary, Willie’s Buddhist nun daughter who returns from 3 years in a monastery. She and her teacher, Iron Ma, provide a light metaphysical thread and the question of whether or not Willie might get back together with his wife is another story strand.
This books raises your awareness of and empathy for those who bear the brunt of the economic collapse in the USA , but it doesn’t have one strong story arc, rather several strands of fairly ordinary happenings that together keep you reading.
This isn’t a book for those who demand a lot of action or a gripping plot. It doesn’t build up to a climax, rather it just keeps trucking along, as life does. Nevertheless, the author manages to write enough tension into fairly ordinary scenes to keep you reading, and he concludes if well by tying up the various threads, but suggesting that even this positive ending may not stay that way for long.
The book is well crafted and edited. There’s nothing extraneous in it. The copy editing is good and the prose is well written. The characters are all strong and I cared about Willie from early in the book, though I would have liked to have seen more obvious development in his character. I had a sense that he had come to accept his situation and be happier for it, but I think that could have been made more obvious.
It’s a good book for those who enjoy contemporary fiction with a social conscience. I give it 4 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies list.
I received it free in return for an honest review.