Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Man Booker long list)

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The irony in this tragic novel is as strong as the theme of electricity that runs through it. It takes place in Alabama, in the 1920s, vacillating between a farm and Kilby Prison.

Roscoe Martin has rewired electricity to power the struggling farm he and his wife have inherited from her father. He never wanted to be a farmer. He wants to work with electricity instead, and this little bit of power he has siphoned off produces incredible prosperity for their farm.

But when a worker from the electrical company is accidentally killed while inspecting the lines, Roscoe is immediately incarcerated. The brief respite of joy he has rekindled with his wife, Marie, is destroyed. She does not come to visit him in the prison but once, nor does she bring their son, Gerald.

Wilson, the man who worked for Marie’s father, is also imprisoned; he knew about the diversion of electrical power from the main lines of Alabama Power and was complicit by his silence.

How ironic it is that they are held in jail by guards who are less skilled then they are, or by wires containing the very electricity they sought in order to improve the status of the farm.

This is Kilby Prison. We exercise in a dusty yard. Around it, a high wall is strung with wire, and in that wire is electricity, enough electricity to kill George Haskin and anyone, more than they run through Yellow Mama (the electric chair). Listen. Electricity so strong you can hear it.

There are many ways to be imprisoned: by a jail cell, of course, but also by the fallout of choices gone wrong, dreams demolished, or isolation from those we love.

This novel showed how those unimprisoned can be just as guilty of crimes as those who are. How sad it made me for hope deferred, as well as for hope lost altogether.

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3 thoughts on “Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Man Booker long list)”

  1. I have this one on my kindle and am looking forward to it. Not sure its one I want to read during these last days of summer though. Sounds more like a Winter novel to me. Loved your review of it!!

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  2. It is a very sad book, but I found the ending sort of hopeful. Not a happy ending exactly, but there were opportunities for most of the characters to find some peace with themselves and each other.

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