A grim debut about a dying mill town in the north of England.
Cartwright’s characters move through the estates and lanes of the “Black Country,” an industrial region of small towns north of Birmingham. A dreary place in its prime, the Black Country is all the drearier now that most of the big factories have been shuttered for 20 years or longer. Most of the story revolves around Luke, who grew up here. A line worker at Paradise Meatpacking, Luke wraps pork chops all day and lives at home with his parents. Dad has been out of work since the steel mill closed in 1980, and Luke is lucky to have a proper job at all. His ex-fiancée, Sarah, works as a receptionist for a law firm, but most of Luke’s friends have to scramble to make a living: His mate Jamie works in a warehouse and dreams of becoming a truck driver, and Jamie’s pal Abdul makes bootleg videocassettes to pay his way through school. When Luke isn’t working, he usually hangs out in some pub or other with his mates, talking football and (it would seem) avoiding Sarah. What’s the deal with that? Well, Luke and Sarah had a pretty spectacular breakup, and the more we find out the odder their relationship appears to have been. Sarah’s parents are upwardly mobile—not wealthy, but ambitious and snobbish in an old-fashioned way—and Luke is your basic working-class lad. Sarah has been carrying on with her married boss behind Luke’s back. And Luke has never really recovered from the death of his older brother, hit by a truck as a small boy. Dear old England—no wonder D.H. Lawrence ran away.
Gritty and engrossing in the tradition of the 1960 film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this will be a tough nut for most Americans to crack (especially since it’s written in a dialect that most will find incomprehensible), but it’s well worth the effort.