Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Since the Layoffs

I have no idea if anyone is even still doing the whole forgotten book thing, but I want to mention Iain Levinson's 2003 novel Since the Layoffs. I'd heard good things about it, and there's been a copy on the shelf of my neighborhood used bookstore for at least a year, so I brought it home last week.

Levinson's novel may not have had much resonance when it was published because in 2003 homeless people were making down payments on million dollar homes with spare change and everyone was going to be rich, rich, rich forever. A novel about an laid off factory worker in an anonymous Midwestern town who turns to contract killing to fill the void once filled by his job might not have seemed all that relevant when the unemployment rate was four percent. Now that it's nearer to 10 percent (and a little over 10 percent here in Georgia), Levinson's story of blue collar angst hits a little close to home, even for those of us who have it pretty good. I think we're all a little more cognizant of the fragility of our situations.

Levinson's no Westlake. Since the Layoffs is not as good as The Ax, but Layoffs was Levinson's first novel, so it's probably unfair to compare the two books despite their thematic similarity. Levinson does a great job getting into the mind of his unemployed character, though, and portraying the reality and desperation of a man without a job. Everyone has to do something, and a man who doesn't have anything to do starts to feel desperate, more for existential reasons than for financial ones. When the local bookie asks unemployed Jake the chance to kill the bookie's cheating wife, Jake is initially repulsed, but relents, as much for the opportunity to feel useful again as for the money the job will bring. Killing is liberating for Jake, more for psychological reasons then pecuniary ones. And killing people is work. Jake has to deal with incompenent help and unexpected complications, but the lack of glamour doesn't bother him. It is a job after all. It's Jake's work ethic that gets him through, and that's why, even though he's a killer, you'll pull for him.


pattinase (abbott) said...

We do it every Friday:
The whole list is on the blog list under Friday Forgotten Books.

Gonzalo B said...

I really enjoyed this novel and I believe it's a stronger effort than his second fiction book, Dog Eat Dog. Levinson's nonfiction title, The Working Stiff's Manifesto, touches on the same issues as Since the Layoffs and it's written in that similarly ironic yet indignant voice. You should take a look at it as well.