It has been a little over five years since I mentioned this book here on the blog. Seems like a good time to mention it again today as part of FFB this week. Whether you read the book or not, make sure you check out the list this week at Patti's blog for more reading suggestions.
In an age where if you are a male and you tell a woman---not your wife/girlfriend/mistress-- that she looks nice you open yourself up to a charge of sexual harassment, in an age where you are called sexist or worse if you hold open a door for a lady, etc. comes this collection MEN IN THE MAKING by Bruce Machart. These stories, almost all set in Texas, are about men at all walks of life literally doing the best they can. These are not stories of politically correct men worrying about their 401ks and their place in the family. These are real guys who do the work that many never notice and take for granted. There is an air of tragedy, dreams unfulfilled, about these characters as they go about their daily lives. These are men who would tell Jimmy Stewart exactly what he could do with himself as this for sure ain’t no wonderful life.
“Where You Begin” opens the collection in a tale set in Houston. There comes a time when the woman in your life is tired of your crap and tells you to go. She’s warned you before this day was coming and you heard it and didn’t really believe it. But, this time it is for real and there is not point is staying as you have done this dance before with other women over the years. Before long you are once again in your best friend’s truck, drinking beer, and cruising the interstate around Houston. It’s a ritual you both have done many times before but this time will be much different.
Next up is Arkansas and the life of a tree mill worker in “The Last One Left in Arkansas.” The debarker is a mean thing when it goes to work on a tree. What it does to a man is far, far worse. But, there is a mental debarker at work as well on the mind of the narrator. Gradually, his life story is slowly unpeeled just like the bark on a tree.
Back to Texas where the minutes before Tim Tilden lost his wife in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart will live with him forever in “Because He Can’t Not Remember.”
Nothing like a ripped water hose to slow you down in “Something for the Poker Table.” South Texas is broiling, the plants need their water, and at our age you know how to fix stuff and a few other things.
A young boy finds out quite a lot about his Dad in “We Don’t Talk That Way in Texas.” Who better to tell a man than his grandfather who lives in Texas. The boy may be from Oklahoma but there is still time to fix him.
It may be spring time in Austin but for Raymond that means nothing in “The Only Good Thing I’ve Heard.” Raymond should have listened to Tammy as she knows what she was talking about. At least at work somebody else can scream.
The other is no escape from your thoughts in “An Instance of Fidelity.”
Memories exist as “Monuments” in the mind. When you get closer and closer to 40 and over you start thinking more and more about the past. Everything changed when he was ten and nothing was ever the same for him and Patty next door. It is all he can think about these days.
An East Texas paper mill is the backdrop in “Among the Living Amidst the Trees.” Garrett and the narrator work hard all week to take their women out on Friday night for dancing and drinking. The news crews that have descended on Jasper, Texas are more trouble than they are worth. Sure, what happened was bad, but there are other horrible things going on.
If you live in the vicinity of Houston, Texas and you had something removed thanks to that thing known as cancer, whatever you lost rode around with Dean Covin in his car. “What You’re Walking Around Without” is about what happens to that stuff and the life Dean Covin lives these days. The story also provides a fitting end to the book.
These ten stories are emotional powerhouses that are not easy reading by any means. These stories are about the folks who keep things going day to day. Often doing thankless brutally hard jobs for low pay. These are people who knew in great detail not only hard work, but personal pain and tragedy. Pain and tragedy that is part of the fiber of their daily lives and won’t ever be changed because it is a part of who they are at the core.
The result is an intense and often emotionally draining work that makes you think long after the book is closed. These are characters that resonate within and will touch you in many different ways. Ultimately they are unsung men, heavy with burdens, doing the best that they can day in day out.
MEN IN THE MAKING
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardback (also available in audio and eBook formats)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano Texas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2012, 2017