Send Me Work

Katherine Karlin. Northwestern Univ./Triquarterly, $17.95 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5220-5
Clear-eyed and rough without being raw, this bracing debut story collection is enlivened by an effective mix of bodily warmth and mechanical grit. In stories of workers at railways, oil refineries, and shipyards, Karlin, who worked in such capacities before becoming an English professor, nonchalantly offers entry into an industrial behind-the-scenes. She does so in a way that is familiarizing without being exoticizing, so that the focus is primarily on the vivid pulse of her characters. A gender-politics vein runs through the stories, as most of Karlin’s workers are women infiltrating traditionally male strongholds; they wrangle their way into higher-paying welding jobs, as in “Muscle Memory,” or hide lesbianism from the crew (their sex having been enough of a sticking point), as in “Bye-Bye, Larry.” But rather than dictating an obvious morality, Karlin allows it to emerge naturally, as her characters struggle through the death of a mentor, for instance, or consider the reasons they might kill someone. These stories are a miracle of pacing, hitting the short story sweet spot time and again and ending exactly when they should. For her unusual focus and light but penetrative approach to this subject matter, Karlin deserves serious attention. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/22/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
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