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Reviews 163 A Birdin HerHairby PhUUp Bonosky. New York: International PubUshers, 1987. pp. 172. $5.95 (paper). Not enough authors who write stories about working class people get it right. Typically they either overstuffthe work with poUtical rhetoric or they sketch workers' desires in some mock-simpUstic style that really misses the point. The more authentic fiction about workers I think Ues in the psychological depth the author brings to the subject: it isn't easy to shape the guilt, the stubbornness, the conceit, the competitiveness of workers, to teU a heroic generational tale about the burden of promise in America (once central to most immigrant novels), to recount the toil upward and outward toward "freedom," only to find some new harness which binds you in. AU these tellings are difficult because of their psychological scope. One writer today who creates some of this texture within her characters is novelist Valerie Miner, focusing as she does on "cross-class and cross-cultural movement" quite successfully. Another, more the Old World proletarian, a lot Uke the embittered ex-preacher-boy narrator in John Sayles' magnificent film Matewan, is Phillip Bonosky. International PubUshers has recently issued a coUection of his stories, A Bird in Her Hair, tales about "the author's experiences growing up in mill towns ofWestern Pennsylvania during the 1940's and 1950's." Five of the 13 pieces appeared in old left journals, notably Masses A Mainstream; the eight others, richer in character and plot, presumably are more recent. AU the tales are weU told, sensitive, confounding at times, always surprising, and very much working class in their poUtical bias and psychological insight. While the stories decry the poUtical powerlessness of steel and mine workers, they are never mere agit-prop. The best among them are internal monologues, confessions really, revealing the thoughts of a perplexed narrator who is recalling a particular trauma either that occurred during his adolescence or that his child has endured. The narrator attempts to soothe the clawing effect the trauma has had on his conscience. Typical of the web of wonder and worry Bonosky spins is "Sweet Tooth." The story begins with a satirical survey of the town's history: when times are good and the men make steel, the workers' famUies eat and the town grows foul from poUution and stench. Then, when times are bad and the mill closes, the air cleans up and the smells form a local candy factory narcotize the unemployed, the historical panorama suddenly, however, shifts to a personal story. The narrator's son, Bobby, develops a friendship with Eggie, a poorer kid who misses out one day on a big giveaway the candy company organizes during hard times. The father suspects Eggie's absence is no accident: the boy was probably elsewhere causing trouble, and he tells Bobby to stay away from him. So, when Eggie disappears down a rooftop air- shaft one night (where the boys have gone to steal into the candy works), Bobby, perplexed that Eggie doesn't climb back up and fearful ofhis father's warning, says nothing. While a putrid odor now Ungers in the town, mixing with the smell of maple syrup, Bobby finaUy breaks down and tells what happened. The father, to save his own hide, tells Bobby to forget it: Eggie just ran away, that's aU. Don't make any other connection. Except to credibiUty. I would like to think a father would protect his son from some more awful truths. But would the father so easily hide a death behind his own strictness, only to lose his son's respect as weU as his own. How does Bonosky want us to think about the father's reaction? No easy answer exists: we don't necessarily understand those revelations about injustice we have come to, especiaUy those we have deepened with our own mistakes. What we admit may enlighten us, but only temporarily, for we realize that our inabiUty to see what is real is ever-present and ever-elusive. As reUeved as the confession has made the father feel, it stiU cannot assuage the painful reminder of having personaUy made a bad situation worse. Indeed the revelation...


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pp. 163-164
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