In this astonishingly accomplished, morally complicated, “exceptional and starkly beautiful debut” (Kevin Powers, National Book Award–nominated author of The Yellow Birds), a prideful electrician in 1920s rural Alabama struggles to overcome past sins and find peace after being sent to prison for manslaughter.
Roscoe T Martin set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the twentieth century: electricity. It became his training, his life’s work. But when his wife, Marie, inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give up his livelihood, with great cost to his sense of self, his marriage, and his family. Realizing he might lose them all if he doesn’t do something, he begins to use his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness. Even the love of Marie and their child seem back within Roscoe’s grasp.
Then a young man working for the state power company stumbles on Roscoe’s illegal lines and is electrocuted, and everything changes: Roscoe is arrested; the farm once more starts to deteriorate; and Marie abandons her husband, leaving him to face his twenty-year sentence alone. Now an unmoored Roscoe must carve out a place at Kilby Prison. Climbing the ranks of the incarcerated from dairy hand to librarian to “dog boy,” an inmate who helps the guards track down escapees, he is ultimately forced to ask himself once more if his work is just that, or if the price of his crimes—for him and his family—is greater than he ever let himself believe.
Gorgeously spare and brilliantly insightful, Work Like Any Other is “a striking debut about love and redemption, the heavy burdens of family and guilt, and learning how to escape them…Virginia Reeves is a major new talent” (Philipp Meyer, New York Times bestselling author of The Son).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Continuing with the Man Booker nominees...
What defines a man? Is it his vocation? The worst thing he's ever done? His guilt? His redemption? These are the questions at the heart of this somber, poignant little novel about Roscoe T Martin, an electrician at the turn of the 20th century who ends up in prison for his indirect involvement in the death of a man.
It should have been simple: Roscoe came up with a seemingly harmless way to steal negligible amounts of electricity from the nearby city to power his family's struggling farm. It should have salvaged his marriage and his relationship with his young son. But then a man stumbled upon Roscoe's illegal lines and was electrocuted, and Roscoe's life was forever changed.
Work Like Any Other is a quiet, understated story about a man who loses everything, about the consequences that can follow even the most well-intentioned actions. There's so much heart-breaking poignancy packed into...
This is an unexpected surprise, a wonderfully evocative story, told about things that don't usually hold much promise. The US prison system in the 1920s, the beginning of rural electricity distribution, and the breakdown of a marriage don't inspire as topics to underpin a novel, but the writer ties them together in a compelling way. The main character's mental torment at the loss of his family and the brutality of his life experiences make for gripping reading, set as they are within rich imagery observed and distilled by the writer.
What a lovely, thoughtful, well-written story. I found myself reading it in gulps -- I would pick it up and read a long chunk, then I would make myself wait until I had another good stretch of time before picking it up again. I wanted to savor it, not skim through casually. I wanted to give Roscoe and his experiences the honor and patience that his character received so little of in life. The story and the characters felt so authentic. Even though it was far outside my own life experience, I still identified with this man so unlike myself. Disappointment, regret, the realization of paths no longer open -- these are themes everyone must face with age. I think young audiences might find themselves challenged to see the poignancy through the tragedy, although they can certainly still appreciate the lyrical, poetic writing. Well done, Ms. Reeves. I'm very much looking forward to whatever you have next for us.
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