THE BUTTE POLKA by Donald McCaig
Kirkus Star


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Novels about mines have built-in grab--the dark, unambiguous danger of it all--and this is a very good one. It's 1946, and Joel Kangas, a former IWW man, Spanish Civil War veteran--a ""Red,"" in other words, in the eyes of the Butte, Montana, copper mining company he works for--disappears from his job as a furnace-stoker. His brother-in-law, Jimmy Mulholland, becomes very suspicious. And all signs are pointing--quite rightly--to Joel's partner at the furnace, Kooteney Ketchel, a hopelessly alcoholic Indian who's likely as not been bought off by Company agents to give Kangas the heave-ho into the flames. But the mystery's detection is only the scaffolding of McCaig's tale: what's truly substantial here is an atmosphere, tense and ugly and grinding, in which men are used like machines and can't do much about it but strike now and then. Kangas is like a bolt popped loose and discarded; Jimmy aims desperately to be at least a little more. The decades-long resentments concerning the union and the company, the boozing, the whoring, the lack of any real horizon in life--McCaig is fine about it all. And whether it's a wake for Kangas' poor few bones (finally fished out of the closed-down furnace) in a child's coffin or a terrible ultimate mine fire, McCaig shifts from the delicate to the monstrous with unfancy ease. A strong book about a strong subject--laconic and unfussed and sure.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Dial