cover image American Precariat: Parables of Exclusion

American Precariat: Parables of Exclusion

Edited by Zeke Caligiuri et al. Coffee House, $19.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-56689-695-5

Caligiuri and 11 other incarcerated men from the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop serve as the editors of this eye-opening compilation, which brings together essays about economic insecurity from a diverse array of writers. In “The Last Days of the Baldock,” University of Iowa writing professor Inara Verzemnieks tells the stories of unhoused people living out of their vehicles at an Oregon rest stop, among them a carpenter who lost his house in the 2008 financial crisis and has struggled to get steady work since. An anonymous delivery driver provides an infuriating account of the indignities they suffered working in New York City at the Covid-19 pandemic’s onset, when they regularly got stiffed on tips by the uber-wealthy they delivered to. Each contribution is followed by a brief transcribed discussion of the piece among the editors. For instance, contemplating the ending of essayist Angela Pelster’s “Saskatoons,” in which a teen endures physical abuse from foster parents and other caretakers for years before running away and “disappearing into the cracks of the city forever,” editor Chris Cabrera muses: “Is it a sad ending? I thought it was pretty happy. He’s finally on his own.” The variety of selections impresses, and the stories outrage. The result is a searing overview of how America’s financial and social systems fail ordinary people. (Nov.)