Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lunch Bucket Paradise by Fred Setterberg

Lunch Bucket ParadiseIf, like me, you're a Baby Boomer, the suburbs probably played a role in your early life, either as the culmination of your parents' postwar material dreams, or as a green-lawned magical oasis that you could only visit. Cheap suburban real estate was a boon to the working class of the 50's and early 60's, though, as with any new enthusiasm, personal problems did not disappear, and an increasingly unstable economy gave the lie to the concept of easy modern living.

But many books have been written about life in the suburbs (Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood comes to mind), and many go unread. Fred Setterberg's sparkling prose and ear for dialog power this autobiographical novel like a vintage T-bird. Setterberg's book has brief, serious (they must be serious; they're in sans-serif) intros to the chapters, which then unleash crackling dialog between the protagonist's autodidact father and his war-hero brother, Win, as well as between the aforementioned older man and the protagonist, called “Little Slick.” The Dad is quite a character: “Too often on Sunday mornings, my mother and I would return home from Mass to find Dad cooking breakfast for the Jehovah's Witnesses, fattening them up for debate.” The Dad and uncle have no illusions and take no prisoners. The Mom is also quite independent, working for political candidates of her own choosing and putting campaign signs up on the lawn over her husband's objections. These are people who know they work for the man and are determined to express their disdain and their heretical ideas when out of the workplace. Of course, some express better than others; another father, a pompous Scoutmaster, gets his comeuppance, but his son pays the price.

The younger generation, playing rock 'n roll and Motown while residing in all-white neighborhoods, of course grow up confused, admiring their parents' resourcefulness but desiring more individuality, living under the shadow of the Vietnam war (which, if you were a teen and time passed slowly, seemed infinitely longer than our longest conflict in Afghanistan seems now), arguing its appropriateness, thinking about going on to college, wondering about their place in what is slowly becoming a service economy. There are dates with girls, hiding extra people in the trunk at drive-in movies, moments of homoeroticism. At the end, our protagonist quits the job his uncle obtained for him (in a ketchup factory) and sets out on a quest for something more. Of course, like the rest of us Boomers, there will be revelations and disappointments, and white-collar work will turn out to be the same as blue-collar toiling for management. The flower beds and barbecue grills will cease to be bourgeois trappings and become for a new generation small avenues for self-expression as the country lurches from one conflict to the next and the economy swings wildly up and down. Though settling down into middle age, the children of the working-class suburbs remember their quarrelsome roots.

For more information, check out the author's website.

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