ECONOMIES OF THE HEART: Stories by Christopher Zenowich


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The hero of Zenowich's first novel (The Cost of Living, p. 731) reappears as the protagonist of this collection of related stories about coming-of-age in a working-class world. Unlike the novel, though, which sagged in places, these pieces are convincing, carefully drawn portraits with a precise sense of the workaday world. Bob Bodewicz is the oldest son of a factory worker who learns the meaning of work and money (and, by extension, of life) through the kinds of work he does with his hands. ""Think Big"" is his rude awakening to the world of hucksters when a salesman tries to convince the family that raising chinchillas in the basement is the royal road to riches. ""Pete the Painter"" is a ""substitute teacher no one respected"" who ""fancied himself as an inventor""; Bob learns about geology from him as ""the landscape itself became the book they studied."" In ""Earning Power,"" Bob Sweeps his dad's factory to earn money for a toy pistol; in ""Field Work,"" where he gives up cross-country running to pick rocks from farmer Apley's field, he learns ""A great secret among men, the way time could be turned into money."" Many of the rest of the chronological stories concern his work with Apley: ""Night Work,"" where Bob and a lazy co-worker stay up hunting for coons that get into the corn; ""The Pile,"" about manure (""Bob was on the top of the ridge spreading the sixth load when he noticed he couldn't smell the stink anymore""); and finally a series of episodes that results in Apley losing his family and selling his farm, though for a good profit, to a woman he takes up with. By book's end, Bob longs for ""A life like Apley's, where everything was lost only to come out better in the end."" The episodes with Apley's family get a bit cluttered, but mostly this is a cleareyed study of the way odd jobs make the boy into a man: the emphasis on work instead of romance is refreshing.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row