Here, I offer two reviews of two different kinds of book: one, a science fiction noir; the other, an autobiography on growing up working class and going into the middle class.
The Automatic Detective
A. Lee Martinez
Title: The Automatic Detective
Author: A. Lee Martinez
Number for Year: 20
Review: I didn’t know much about this, but picked it up at the library and wasn’t completely overwhelmed by this book, but also was completely underwhelmed either. The book is a mix of hard-boiled detective story and science fiction as it follows the story of Mack Megaton, a giant robot, searching for a family in Empire City. Martinez throws in enough humor to keep the story lively. The only thing I couldn’t get a clear picture of was what Mack really looked like, and toward the end, I lost a little steam as the plot seemed to go a little off the rails, but the book drew to a satisfying, if not stunning conclusion. I would recommend this to those who enjoy detective stories in the tradition of Raymond Chandler with a little bit of off-beat science fiction thrown in for good measure.
Final analysis: 7/10. Good, but could have been just a little bit better.
Title: Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams
Author: Alfred Lubrano
Pages: 256 Genre: Non-fiction (memoir and survey)
Review: “I now live a middle-class life, working at a white-collar newspaper-man’s job, but I was born blue collar,” begins Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Alfred Lubrano in this memoir and study of class in America. Over the course of the rest of the book, he paints a picture of what he calls “Straddlers,” those who raised themselves up from working class to middle class, but who didn’t feel a part of either class, and the picture isn’t always pretty.
As a newspaper-man myself for much of my adult life, who also came from a working-class background, I can relate to much of what Lubrano writes here — although depending with whose definition of middle class you go, I don’t know if my wife and I even ever have made it to middle class status. Maybe we’ve made it to the lower middle class, but certainly aren’t in the middle of the middle class, where $100,000/year is given as a benchmark. Regardless of the definitions and where we fit (or don’t fit, as the case may be), Lubrano’s portrait of his own family and other families ring true to what I’ve experienced and also seen others experience.
Class is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of America, if not the world. Most of the time we look at race and gender, but class much of the time is how people view others. We have our own version of caste system in America, I believe.
Interestingly, at least to me, as I read this book yesterday — the day after the Pennsylvania primaries in which Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama ostensibly on the backs of the blue-collar voters, I couldn’t help but think that this book is extremely pertinent to what is still going on, and will continue, in America. For anyone, whether from the working class, the middle class or the upper class, this book gives a good portrait of those who are straddling two worlds and who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere. And especially in light of contemporary events, it couldn’t be more relevant for us as Americans and probably many Europeans as well.
Final analysis: 8/10, a little bit above the usual fare, because of subject matter to which I could strongly relate and the way he addressed the subject of class.