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An unprepossessing account of a coal-mine-owning Pennsylvania family, 18711902--based on the lives of the author's grandparents and other ancestors. The setting is the town of Clarkston, where Frederick Clark arrives (with his family) in 1871 to join his brother Dexter in running the mines. And much of the first part of the novel is devoted to the problems between Dexter and his strongminded, stout-hearted, do-gooding wife Jessie: since Jessie can't bring herself to welcome intimate conjugal attentions, Dexter quietly forms an alliance with a handsome, intelligent Philadelphia widow; and Jessie learns the truth one night in 1890 when she desperately goes looking for help in dealing with violence by striking miners. As time passes, however--with recurrent striker uprisings along the way (""The unions are all a bunch of communists out to ruin the country,"" says machinery-designer Dexter)--the focus shifts somewhat to Fred's crippled son Danny, who grows up to be a brilliant engineer: he designs the ""smallest locomotive in the world""; he marries wily Barbara (who's secretly pregnant by someone else); he constantly reminds his father and uncle of men's rights to bargain for a living wage; he has working-class friends; and finally--before dying in an accident--he'll forestall a riot by facing down a hall full of angry miners. Yarnall's research has turned up lots of details about mine machinery, but the complex motivations of owners and workers are not illuminated here . . . while the domestic family doings remain quite drab and predictable. A bland family-saga overall, probably on for those with a burning interest in anthracite.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Walker