UNION DUES by John Sayles


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For a novel that sometimes seems to be about work, Sayles' follow-up to his strong debut in Pride of the Bimbos contains an astounding amount of talk: coal-miner talk (the hero, widower Hunter McNatt, is a West Virginia miner who leaves his union-disputing comrades to search for his runaway son); Boston-Irish and Boston-Italian talk (the son, Hobie, runs to Boston); suburban talk, ghetto talk, and student-radical talk circa 1969 (Hobie half-heartedly forsakes work and joins up with ""The Third Way""). Some of the conversation is raunchy-funny, though never achieving the comic energy of bits of Bimbos; and the dialects have been so carefully absorbed and reproduced that they're occasionally self-defeating: "". . . it's not a pot of Boston. . . Miss Racial Hominy, 1969."" Happily, however, there's more here than a young novelist's indulgence in his own ear-power. There's the parable-pathos of taciturn Hunter, whose wearying struggles to support himself while hunting for Hobie lead him to the ignominies of peperoni--waxing (he's fired--too careful, too slow), the unemployment line, and the kick-back-for-a-job shuffle. And Hobie's sexual and intellectual coming-of-age with ""The Third Way""--however tedious and pathetic the self-destructing movement itself--becomes a quietly absorbing process. Page by page, Sayles' studies of men gabbing and earning a buck (the only women are a hooker who rolls Hunter, angry Miriam, and other guitar-strumming movement molls) convince and engage. But all that extrinsic talk denies Hunter and Hobie the momentum they deserve, and what we're left with is further evidence of Sayles' unarguable gifts--and a keen interest in what he'll do now that he's shown his reportorial, rambling stuff.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1977
ISBN: 156025730X
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown