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Work Like Any Other: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize Paperback – 1 March 2016
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Placing itself perfectly alongside acclaimed work by Philipp Meyer, Jane Smiley and J M Coetzee, this debut novel charts the story of Roscoe T Martin in rural Alabama in the 1920s.
Roscoe has set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the 20th century: electricity. It becomes his training, his life's work. But when his wife Marie inherits her father's failing farm, Roscoe has to give it up, with great cost to his pride and sense of self, his marriage and his family.
Realising that he might lose them all, he uses his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness on a farm recently falling to ruin. Even the love of Marie and their son seems back within Roscoe's grasp.
Then everything changes. A young man is electrocuted on their land. Roscoe is arrested for manslaughter and - no longer an electrician or even a farmer - he must now carve out a place in a violent new world.
"Work Like Any Other is an exceptional novel told in clear, direct, and starkly beautiful language. Virginia Reeves has a gift for bringing to life all the tensions that emerge wherever people, place, and progress collide. I absolutely loved it." -- Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds
“How brilliantly Virginia Reeves brings to life her protagonist, Roscoe T Martin, with his hatred of farming, his love of electricity and his long struggle to make amends to himself, his family and his friends. Work Like Any Other is a novel of fierce beauty and hard-won redemption. A wonderful debut.” -- Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“This is a consummately well-written, deeply affecting, thought-provoking American historical novel of hard labor, broken dreams, moral dilemmas, violence, racism, and the intricacies of marriage, parenthood, and friendship. Hope is found in reading, compassion, forgiveness, and good, honest work, whatever form it takes. Reeves’ gripping, dynamically plotted, and profound novel will resonate on different frequencies for men and women and spark soul-searching and heated discussion.” ― Booklist, Starred Review
“The world of this exquisite novel – 1920s Alabama – hasn’t let go of me since I finished it. It’s gorgeous, painful, original, and so true in all its details. Reeves writes with incredibly intelligent compassion, and in Roscoe Martin has created an extraordinary man who more than earns his place among the complicated population of the literary South. Thick with dread and beauty, this is a stunning chronicle of a time, a place, and a mind.” -- Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest
"Virginia Reeves' assured and absorbing debut novel is a potent mix of icy honesty and heart-wrenching tenderness; it is certainly a Work Unlike Any Other, in that its humanity and optimism are salvaged from the darkest of places, from prison cells, from mining shafts, from decomposing marriages, and from the unforgiving workings of the land." -- Jim Crace, author of Harvest and Being Dead
“Work Like Any Other is a beautifully accomplished first novel. She draws the reader in with such ease, and plumbs the depths of her characters with such acuteness and care, I was totally won over.” -- James Magnuson, author of The Hounds of Winter
"A riveting debut that oscillates between past and present, between the high price of hope and the betrayals of progress. Both an intimate family saga and a heartbreaking cautionary tale, Work Like Any Other is, above all, a starkly beautiful novel." -- Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban
"Virginia Reeves has built her first novel with the craft and seriousness of purpose of a master carpenter. When the pieces come together, you’re astonished at what a thing of beauty has appeared before your eyes." -- Anthony Giardina, author of Norumbega Park
“Eloquent and acutely self-aware… Prose so lovely that it strains credulity… Elegant.” ― Kirkus
"Thoughtful, absorbing... In this engrossing, vividly drawn debut, Reeves delivers a dazzlingly authentic portrait of a restless, remorseful mind." ― Publishers Weekly
“Work Like Any Other” is addictive when it focuses on Roscoe’s life behind bars, and the perils he suffers, a good man you can’t help but have sympathy for, but one earmarked for suffering. . . . A book worth reading.” ― The Missourian
"A morally complicated ode to Alabama." ― Jackson Free Press
“Author Virginia Reeves has delivered a commanding, dramatic novel of life in 1920s Alabama, inside a family torn apart my anger, resentment, shame, guilt, and desire. This is a deeply gripping portrayal of Americana in the Deep South, replete with racism, violence, and heartbreak. Astonishingly well-written.” ― New York Journal of Books
“[An] inventive, beautiful and deceptively morally complex novel.” ― Nick Mancusi, The Miami Herald
“The novel's great strength is that in showing so much in terms of race, our prison system, forgiveness and labor, it never is heavy-handed. . . . Reeves' nuance for these people and this story is, indeed, quite powerful.” ― Hans Weyandt, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Reeves’s novel, with its strong sense of time and place and its interrelating cast of inmates and guards, calls to mind those Stephen King books set in prisons, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, that were adapted into films. But it is Paul Harding’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Tinkers, that is perhaps a better comparison here because of its many bewitching passages of description of electricity... Reeves is a fine wrangler of words, able to snake sentences of slithery charisma in and around each other. This is especially true in her depictions of time and place: her settings and the people in them stand firm and vivid in the mind’s eye." ― The Australian
"Beautifully written, this is an unusual and moving debut." ― Sunday Times on Work Like Any Other
"A slow-burning pleasure... Wonderful... Brutal, beautiful, and, to some significant extent, redemptive." ― Daily Mail
‘A traditional story about human struggle in a now vanished America, this classic novel will appeal to admirers of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.’ ― Irish Times on Work Like Any Other
About the Author
- Publisher : Scribner UK; Export edition (1 March 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1471152227
- ISBN-13 : 978-1471152221
- Dimensions : 15.5 x 2.2 x 23.5 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from other countries
But, for Roscoe Martin, wedded to an unforgiving wife and her family’s failing farm, it is an opportunity to evolve. With powered machinery, the farm would not just turn a profit, it could reap huge productivity dividends. With some technical know-how, it is a sinch for Roscoe to hook up into the grid, siphoning off power that would be lost anyway through onward transmission. And Wilson, the wise black farm manager seems willing to go along with it…
However, the reader knows from the very opening words that it is not going to go well. The current will kill a man, and ultimately Roscoe and Wilson are called upon to pay the price. Roscoe receives injustice as his punishment far outweighs an offence that would now seem trivial; Wilson receives an injustice as he is deemed to be an accomplice to a project that would only ever have benefited Roscoe.
For the first two thirds of the novel, we interleave chapters narrated by a third person, and chapters narrated directly by Roscoe from prison. This works well up to a point, and of course there is an inevitable contrast drawn between Roscoe’s incarceration for having killed a man by electrocution, and the nascent use by the prison system of the electric chair. Unfortunately, the prison chapters soon run out of much to say and both sets of chapters end up telling the backstory. It is very well told, but it does feel as though the narrative, like Roscoe’s sentence, is unnecessarily prolonged, running to 20 chapters simply to match Roscoe’s sentence.
The final third of the novel abandons the chapter format and gives a first person narrative of Roscoe’s life on release. This offers plenty of opportunity to compare and contrast Roscoe and Wilson’s experiences and fortunes. It is pretty emotional in places. What it lacks, though, is any terribly cogent rationale for how things ended up as they had. This doesn’t seem to be a case of crime and punishment, or even behaviour and consequences. It just seems to be random outcomes from unjust situations with characters behaving strangely given all that we have come to know about them.
This is not a bad novel; even if parts of it can feel repetitive, it is not a long novel and it mixes the bleakness with humour and sunlight. There are some interesting ideas knocking around. But overall, it doesn’t quite work; it is not as profound as it clearly hopes to be.
The story line, characters and irony of the novel is all superb. Immediately transported into a different and tough world, in which the promise of the future can damage the present. No need to say more, give this book a chance.