The hapless lives and hard times of Scottish autoworkers are the core of Torrington's follow-up to his 1992...



The hapless lives and hard times of Scottish autoworkers are the core of Torrington's follow-up to his 1992 Whitbread-winner, Swing Hammer Swing/(1994), though the zest and wit that marked that earlier debut novel appear only fitfully here. The cast includes Steve Laker, who drops his anti-multinational stand to take a job as telexer in the Yank-owned Centaur Car Company plant, where he finds deplorable working conditions and bosses so far from being human that the line workers refer to them as ""Martians."" Next up is Wormsley, a careworn man with a wife insistent that he work the late shift, having, when we meet him, a worse night than usual on the line. Feeling poorly, he visits the company infirmary only to be sent home immediately, though he drops dead in front of a fishmonger's shop before he gets there. Humor is interlaced with tragedy from that point on: One worker fakes his death to get a few days off, then returns to find himself suspected of theft and canned; a Christian supervisor confronts the plant's porn king, forcing him to tear down all his pinups, learning to his shame--a shame so great that it drives him to suicide--that a photo of his own university-educated daughter is a prize in the man's collection; at his retirement ceremony, the head of company security is given binoculars--with which he spots a team of thieves he'd spent his entire career trying to catch. Friction between workers and management keeps things in a constant state of upheaval, until the corporate parent, with eyes only for the bottom line, makes a decision with disastrous consequences for everyone. Colorful, yes, but little in this view of factory life is new, and the episodic style, while it does offer vivid stories and characters, works against Torrington's greater strength as a realist, his ability to catch the dense particulars of working-class neighborhoods and life.

Pub Date: July 10, 1997


Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt Brace

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997