College-educated, with a romantic and humanistic bent, Lewontin signs on as an apprentice sawyer ut a Vermont sawmill and finds himself in a time-warped world dominated by an elderly, tyrannical mill owner and staffed by a constantly changing cast of coworkers as strange and fascinating as visitors from another her planet. Owner Henry Parsons' idea of training a new hand is to demonstrate an operation once and then disappear into his office. He is contemptuous of questions and furious when inevitable mistakes are made. A flinty, taciturn Yankee, he curiously favors loudmouthed macho types: an ex-Army sergeant who brags of his sexual exploits; a truck driver who bullies the other hands and preempts the only pillow at lunch breaks. Lewontin's ability to learn the different operations--the trim saw that makes dowels, the ripsaw that cuts boards into smaller pieces--and his relative equanimity when given the nastiest jobs seem to infuriate the old man. When Lewontin is fired after six months, only one man--the affable, alcoholic Charlie--has a longer tenure. "Parsons," muses Lewontin, "could not reconcile his need for laborers with his own belief that every real man ought to be independent. . .and in his furious rush to hire and fire, he meant to show them their true worth." A writing debut characterized by wondrously detailed descriptions of difficult and hideously dangerous work, performed by a vanishing breed of artisans soon to be rendered extinct by automation.