Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Jackson

Few would argue that American workers are facing a crisis of confidence today - or as T.P. Jones puts it, a “loss of certainty.” That jobs are disappearing is beyond dispute; layoffs and terminations can be easily counted and their staggering number makes national headlines every week. It is, however, more difficult for the average worker to buy into the government’s claims about the number of new jobs being created or saved during the same week that so many jobs have been lost. There is just too great a feeling of “smoke and mirrors” involved, especially when it comes to the easily manipulated “jobs saved” category.

Jackson, book one in the Loss of Certainty trilogy, personalizes today’s economic headlines by placing the reader inside the heads of a group of Midwesterners who have spent their entire working lives at JackPack, one of Jackson, Iowa’s biggest businesses. The Jackson Meatpacking Company employs some 2,000 Jackson citizens who do the backbreaking work of slaughtering several thousands hogs a day and, tough as the job might be, most of them cannot imagine ever doing anything else. But times are changing.

Jackson Meatpacking’s physical plant is old and rundown and no one will loan the company the money it needs to modernize the facility. The company is already facing a slow death when its management suddenly learns that a fierce and well-funded competitor is moving into the region and will be buying hogs from the same farms counted on by Jackson Meatpacking for its own supply of healthy animals. As hog prices inevitably rise because of this new competition, JackPack’s daily losses will increase, and the company will be pushed ever closer to the day it has to shut its doors for good.

But no one is ready to pull the plug on the company, least of all its employees and the man who runs it. That man is the grandson of Jackson Meatpacking’s founder and, because most company stock is still in the hands of his relatives, he has a very personal stake in the success of the operation. Even at that, he is not the only one with everything to lose if the company shuts down, meaning that a very different group of people will have to find a way to work together if JackPack is to have any chance of surviving. This time the inherent distrust between white collars, blue collars and union leaders will have to be cast aside for the good of all. Add to this mix a young investigative reporter new to Jackson and the vindictive newspaper publisher who hired her for reasons of his own, and it is anyone’s bet as to what Jackson Meatpacking’s ultimate fate will be.

Jackson includes an interesting side plot involving the construction of a dog racing track that must largely be built during the coldest months of a long Iowa winter. This side story involves city managers, construction people, and numerous other characters that I suspect will play larger roles in the second book of the Loss of Certainty series.

T.P. Jones did an extraordinary amount of research in preparation for Jackson and the books that will follow, and it shows. His characters are everyday, real people faced with uncertain futures and they react to the stress of their situations just as hardworking people all across America are reacting to their own uncertain futures today. At almost 540 pages, Jackson is a long but easily read book because Jones uses a very fluid and straightforward style to tell his story, a story to which his readers will strongly relate.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review copy provided by Synergy Books)

2 comments:

  1. Hey Sam!

    Sorry this post isn't related to the post, but this is the first chance I've had to comment. I too was at the Texas Book Festival. Sorry to have missed you. I also had a lot of fun. Went to "Mama Dramas", "Vlad the Impaler" and "Everything Hurts" on Saturday and then the panel on Sunday with P.C. and Kristen Cast. Can't wait to go again next year. I also converted my sister, who lives in Austin. :)

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  2. Sorry I missed you, Erin. Next year I'm going to have to do a "shout out" here to see if anyone else will be in Austin for the 2010 festival. I know of at least one other person I would have liked to meet there this year.

    Hey, my brother lives in Austin and I couldn't drag him downtown...no interest. You did well to convert your sister. :-)

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