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Two brothers in their late 30s find themselves tormented by a memory of a gifted younger brother's death in a steel-mill accident 15 years before, in an understated but effective first novel about family dislocation and despair as America's heavy industries die. Luke, a hobo, and Michael, a married alcoholic salesman with an infant daughter, have left the foundry town of Meltonville, Ill., where for three generations the men in their family forged steel in the now-defunct mills, for New Mexico, land of clean air, bright colors and dreams; but they can't think of anything other than the odd glamour and camaraderie of the old way of living, which, in their family, included a heritage of grinding poverty, nepenthean heavy drinking and a mystical Catholicism that deferred to another world the pleasures of this one. So it is that Luke and Michael--though now in a place where prosperity comes easily--continue, in flashbacks, to relive their pinched childhood, the short-lived, thrilling promise of manhood as they began to work (and drink) at the foundry, and the drunken smokestack accident that killed Matthew, the most promising brother, just as the steel mill itself was dying. In fact, the novel's imagery makes Matthew a martyr, carrying the burden of old expectations and solid old, hard-working values to an end; and in a crisply inspired scene, the two remaining brothers pick up a new burden when a sweet, almost saintly hobo friend of Luke's lies dying: he teaches them to put guilt away and take care of each other and the new families it's their lot to create. Splendid setting, and moments of truly inspired lyrical writing, especially when describing Luke's life as a hobo; but grim and not quite satisfying as a final word on the penury and constricted pleasures of factory life.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1988
Publisher: Algonquin