May 12, 2011
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects – Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar
John Cheever, Andre Dubus, Donald Barthelme, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, Eudora Welty, Tobias Wolff. These are names you expect to see on college literature course syllabi and New York Times Best Seller Lists. These are not names you expect to see writing about work. But when the best fiction writers craft tales that are rooted in reality, made real by including close and clever details of everyday life, those stories act as a record of humanity. And Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar, edited by the estimable Richard Ford, is exactly that: a record of humanity through stories of work.
Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner for his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, contributes a story, “Edison, New Jersey,” about two dishonest pool table deliverymen who know and notice too much about their customers, all the while they have their minds on the ladies they’ve loved and lost. (Note to self: don’t let deliverymen use the bathroom unless you’ve already tipped them well.) Andre Dubus’s story is also about “Delivering,” beautifully yet tragically describing two young brothers on their paper delivery route the morning after their mother leaves:
[T]he sack bumping his right thigh and sliding forward … he kept shoving it back, keeping the rhythm of his pedaling and his throws: the easy ones to the left, a smooth motion across his chest like second to first, snapping the paper hard and watching it drop on the lawn; except for the people who didn’t always pay on time … and he hit their porches or front doors, a good hard sound in the morning quiet.Elizabeth Strout’s entry comes from her fabulous story collection Olive Kitteridge, and details the reawakening of a pharmacist when he hires a young and simple woman, the opposite of his wife, to help him around the store. Annie Proulx, with her trademark gruff practicality, follows Leeland’s “Job History” quite literally as he moves from one job to another:
One intensely cold winter when everything freezes from God to gizzard, Leeland and his father lose 112 hogs. They sell out. Eighteen months later the ranch supply business goes under. The new color television set goes back to the store.So why recommend this short fiction collection to business readers? Mr. Ford himself explains it best.
[W]e soon realized that it was a book for anyone who feels the urge to apply the consolations of literature to the complex, often perplexing matters of earning a paycheck, showing up on time, getting the job done, taking the job home, getting hired, laid off, promoted, demoted, reclassified, sent home, or of just plain being fed up and ready to take a hike. […] The idea here is that within the wide array of everything work may be said to encompass, one finds a vital connective tissue to be the thriving human spirit.Plus, it’s just really fun to read.