It's Saturday

Michael Barrett, Author . Carnegie Mellon Univ $16.95 (138p) ISBN 978-0-88748-441-4

Subsistence living and dead-end factory work curtail Midwestern blue-collar existence in Barrett's bleak, affecting debut collection, set mostly in snow-pummeled Michigan and Indiana. In the title story, three dejected buddies—one missing eight fingers from a mishap at the aluminum plant where they all toil—aimlessly cruise Fort Wayne, slugging cheap beer, smoking pot and pondering their careers at the plant. Also dissatisfied with limited horizons, the dropout short-order cook who narrates "Skyliner" dates a college girl and considers higher education. Two men—one missing his ring finger from a job-related accident—move in together in "Grip," which relates the unspoken ties between friends and the inarticulate pain of abandonment as one man leaves for North Carolina after the narrator nurses him back to health from a near-fatal car accident. Billy Taylor, the lonely latch-key boy at the center of "Capitol," lacks a paternal presence, just as an insecure son's bond with his absentee dad sadly unravels in "The Last Time I Saw My Father." Barrett's spare, descriptive prose often shines, and his dialogue rings authentic as he effectively reproduces Midwestern solecisms. This first collection, echoing early Updike, finely traces a tired, prefab America of fast-food chains and the nickel-and-dimed protagonists stuck in the middle of it all. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/16/2005
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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