Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Swing State by Michael Fournier

Armbrister, New Hampshire, isn't doing well in this economy.  Most of the men in town worked in the mills, but the mill work went overseas and the mills closed down one by one.  There wasn't much else in the way of work; not much construction when no one could afford to buy, not many restaurants when eating at home was cheaper.  Stores closed down and the people of the town struggled to make it from month to month.

Three young residents typify the population.  Royal finished high school but with bad grades that meant no college for him.  He joined the military, went to Afghanistan and is back in town when an injury sent him home.  He's willing to work but can't find a job.  He's getting by playing pool for money and spending days in the library to keep warm.

Dixon's brother is the town's star athlete, the one everyone says has a chance to make it to the pros.  The college recruiters are visiting.  Dixon's family just wants to be sure she doesn't mess up his chances with her juvenile delinquency and her reputation for getting high and maybe being too friendly with the guys.

Zachariah is the fat kid.  He used to be one of the guys, on the soccer team and part of the gang, but after he had an embarrassing incident, everyone dropped him and now he's the kid no one wants to talk with.  No one except those who want to torment him, like Dixon.  Even his father, who lives for Armbrister football, beats him.  Zach knows he needs to find a way to escape.  He spends his days baking and working on game shows that he hopes will take him to another life.

Michael Fournier has written two novels.  He is founder and co-editor of Cabildo Quarterly, a literary journal.  His writing has appeared in the Oxford American, Vice, Pitchfork and the Boston Globe.  He lives in western Massachusetts.

Swing State explores what happens to a town and those who live there when the jobs dry up and everyone is struggling to get by.  The characters try different strategies, but only the rare individual manages to carve out a life that is satisfying.  But these are strong individuals and they keep trying, refusing to give up and accept that their lives will never be better.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in other's lives and how they handle the obstacles life gives them. 

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