What seems abnormal may be normal to you. Seeing dead people may not be the most pleasant talent, but if that’s what you are born with, then it’s normal, and you have to live with it through Kubla-Ross’s famous five stages of dying. That happens to Jamie in his narrative of the coming-of-age proclamation of his identity in this story.
Dead people are like quiet people lurking in the background of Jamie’s life. They appear to him as the last moments of their earthly lives, talking and joking to Jamie, who can see and hear them, albeit rather unreluctantly, because he’s not much pleased with his uncanny ability. But then it’s the discerning talent -says the Bible – that helps him know who he is, like an epiphany of a family secret locked in his uncle’s lost memories, thanks to nature’s force of dementia. However, this story is not so much a psychological thriller as a supernatural drama that is so characteristic of Stephen King’s novels, with a level of uncanniness combined with realism that makes his stories all the more real and relatable. The settings, the dialogues, and the jobs the characters have are not far-fetched, fanciful, or bourgeoisie, all of which attest to King’s engagingly realistic storytelling skills.
Later is a three-fold story of horror without goriness, mystery without glamour, and bildungsroman without teenage angst. King has a unique knack for incorporating popular entertainment with serious literature that attracts readers of all generations and classes. He is a literary descendant of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and Edgar Allen Poe, who defined American literature in the constellation of the World’s Literature for the joy of the beholders from generation to generation. All in all, this book will be one of the stars in the constellation.
A man without a country is a connoisseur of humanity, appreciating the universality of sentiment and reason common to all humankind beyond the demarcation of the territorial, cultural, and racial ambits. In that regard, Kurt Vonnegut is not only a great American writer but also an honorable citizen of the world.
Vonnegut was liberal and socialist without being Marxist, but he was also a traditionalist and Christian without being conservative and religious. He was on the side of the underdogs because he regarded himself as one by being a kind of black sheep in the literary circles for his studying engineering, not English literature. However, he wasn’t a grumpy sullen dark literary figure but a funny, talkative writer who stroke conversations with anyone in daily life. Vonnegut refused to lose his days in unsocial solitude and decided to become – as Samuel Johnson called – the sun in his evening declination, remitting his splendor and maintaining his magnitude, pleasing more, though intimidating less.
A Man without a Country is a charming little book packed with thoughts, wits, and knowledge. Vonnegut was only a human because he saw the heart of human nature and wanted to help people bring it out and nourish it thus: “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” Vonnegut was a writer who practiced what he preached. So why not read this book by such a writer?
Howard Stern might not be everyone’s friend, but he’s got the point when he articulated in his radio show a decade ago that what was eating out this great nation was not racism but classicism. The recent unionization movements among service industry workers, such as Amazon and Starbucks, indicate that the demand for the dignity of workers supersedes ideological politics that discourage the growth of American esprit de corps. American Made is a story about this American class consciousness that will put together disintegrated tesserae of the collective national mosaic made by the people and events.
The author follows the three principal workers of the now-defunct Rexnord Factory in Indiana: Wally, a black man whose diligence and amiability promoted him to a coveted position in the factory; Shannon, a single white woman with an abusive partner taking pride herself in being a wielder, a male-dominated position, and John whose fortitude and conscience never left him during his long, turbulent unemployment days. Sex and race don’t matter when it comes to losing their jobs, let alone loving them because the importance of what they do for a living and the need for their livelihood are their commonalities that build a sense of camaraderie. In fact, class solidarity can never be achieved if class consciousness is transcendent of racial prejudice to be achieved first. Unfortunately, the antebellum wealthy southern plantation owners systematically destroyed the poor white laborers’ wage systems by replacing their workforce with the free labor of African slaves, thus planting the seeds of racial hatred in the hearts of the poor whites. The vicious cycle of devious racialized economic caste system has since firmly constituted the American economic system ethos under “Separated but Equal.” The author sees the absurdities of American society as a result of the disintegrated labor movements primarily due to racial prejudices, which is why worker’s solidarity is a way forward to achieve national unity.
Wally, Shannon, and John are not just working-class Americans. The author emphasizes differentiating her elite station characterized by expensive private higher education and intellectual “profession” from those with hardened coarse hands of workers in the factory. They are ordinary people, a majority of Americans making up this country, ubiquitous in the landscape of our daily life. They are expendable at the whims and caprice of profit-driven employers who see their employees as no more than living at-will automates. That is what happened to the Rexnord Factory, where workers’ lives were no less than collateral damage for a successful operational mission of the company.
At times, the author positions herself as a conscientious liberal intellectual, paralleling her fortunate environment with her unfortunate subjects. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard for being an NYT journalist. Nevertheless, the book succeeds in pointing out a lack of national cohesion resulting from the politicization of racial rhetorics into bipartisan ideology, which falls by the wayside of solidarity of labor movement overcoming institutionalized racial prejudices. Recently, I have read that the workers of Starbucks and Amazon in New York have voted to unionize. American Made is a story about them and us too because the dignity of work makes us who we are.
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