First novel by journalist and storywriter Delaney (The Drowning, 1999) portrays life on and off the floor of a New England textile mill.
It’s the summer of 1978, and the Chace Finishing Mill is one of those cavernous old factories that sprang up in the 19th century across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island like mushrooms after heavy rain. Most of these places are long since shuttered, but in the late ’70s Chace was still up and running, if not exactly thriving. Delaney re-creates the era by following a handful of employees through their daily routines across several months. There’s Carey, the leader of the loading crew, who dreams of becoming foreman and worries over the impending death of his gravely ill wife. Forklift driver Machado, an immigrant from the Azores, resists his own wife’s pleas to return to his homeland and retire there on his company pension, while 16-year-old Dominic drops out of high school as soon as he can to work at the mill and prove his worth to his embittered, crippled father. The monotony of the days is broken by the usual workplace distractions—the company softball team, for example—and by the inevitable bickering with and about the management, represented by foreman Parry and plant manager “Fat Pat” Harrigan. Delaney writes in an understated, almost neutral tone that evokes the time and place without begging the reader’s sympathy or indulgence, and he succeeds in making ordinary events and annoyances (quarrels over overtime pay, embarrassment at the charity of friends) typify the people and place he describes.
A modest and quiet work that draws the outlines of a vanished world with exceptional ease and grace.