Charlie Burden is literally burdened. His career has devolved into meaningless administration; his marriage is lifeless, his children grown. Could he redeem himself and perhaps find love amid the coal fields and mountains of West Virginia?
Originally self-published under the title The Pie Man (2009), Fitzgerald’s debut novel pits corporate greed against Appalachian vulnerability as a mining company threatens a rural community. Ready to drop the country-club lifestyle and return to purposeful work, Charlie agrees to salvage the construction management of a coal-burning plant in Red Bone. He hopes to straighten out the problems quickly and then be reassigned to China. With its jaded hero caught up in a morally conflicted universe, agreeing to do one last job for the robber barons (in alliance with corrupt politicians, manipulating permits and ruining the land) before he can do meaningful work again, Fitzgerald’s tale has elements of a corporate thriller. Although he wants to help the people of Red Bone, Charlie soon realizes that his bosses are implicated in the environmental crime of mountaintop removal. But his efforts to stop the project are complicated by the community’s desperate need for jobs. Soon he has enemies on both sides of the security fence. The thriller, however, lies uneasily with the romance concocted between Charlie and Natty. An abused wife with a drunkard for a husband and a son with Down syndrome, Natty is the perfect damsel in distress. She has a delicate beauty, is impossibly good to everyone and instantly attracts the rugged Charlie. Their relationship is, of course, fraught with perils, which struggle to crescendo into violence through long expositions of the looming environmental catastrophe.