Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value

When reading and discussing the effects of capitalism’s peaks and valleys, it is very rare that the actual effect on individual families is included in the conversation. Instead, most of what is published are rationales from capitalist economists that don’t hold up when critically examined and excuses from politicians who benefit from capitalism’s cruelty. Even rarer in contemporary times are fictional representations of working people struggling to survive the never-ending series of machinations at the top of capitalism’s collapsing pyramid.

Why does this seem to be the case? Is it because those fiction writers who get published are writers whose lives are too remote from those of the proletariat and therefore considered uninteresting? Is the circle of writers so closed that only those who have gone through the university and what sees like a never-ending series of writers’ workshops have the credentials that attract most agents and publishers? Perhaps publishers don’t think such fictions will sell. My guess is that it is all of the above.

Despite this, there are occasional working class fictions that break through the mass-produced material that most folks read today for fiction. The authors of such works that come most quickly to mind include Russell Banks, Walter Moseley, Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates. Of course, this writing spans genres, from crime novels to literary fiction and fantasy. Multiracial, across geographies and representing both conventional genders, this writing describes the humanness of those in whom capitalism sees only surplus value.

Into this dearth of such literature comes Beverly Gologorsky’s new novel, Every Body Has a Story. Set in the boroughs of New York in the time period defined by the 2007-2008 crash of the US housing market and the stock exchange, Gologorsky creates a story about four lifelong friends forever changed by the effects of that crash. Born in working-class neighborhoods into working-class lives, the four paired off and fought their way to establish their own version of the American Dream. It isn’t like they moved to Westchester County or the Hamptons, but they did have decent jobs and nice places to live. One couple had children and the other remained childless. Live was sometimes tedious and repetitious, but the bottom line is they considered themselves happy.

Then, the story takes a turn towards the realm where the Book of Job was composed. One couple’s house is foreclosed while the other’s marriage founders. One father–Zack– retreats to the basement of his foreclosed home while his wife and mother of his children Lena looks for work after being laid off. Stu, the other husband in the quartet begins to drink heavily and let his mind wander to other women. Meanwhile, his wife Dory realizes she has some kind of illness but is afraid to go to the doctor to discover what it is. As the eviction looms, the children in the family react each in their own way: the fifteen-year-old daughter runs away to live with a slightly older man while her younger brother retreats into cyberspace, plotting his own response.

All the while, the march of capitalism plods on to its logical end. The bank takes back the house despite every effort by Zack and Lena possible to prevent such an occurrence. Then it leaves the house empty since nobody who wants to buy the house can get a mortgage. Stu destroys his friendships (and any solidarity) at work when he bows to pressure from the bosses and takes the one job they still want one of the welders in his crew to perform. Everyone else in his crew is laid off. It seems fair to assume the reason for the layoffs at Stu’s job are related to the crash of the economy.

Just when it seems nothing can get worse, Dory discovers she has terminal cancer. Zack decides to move back into the foreclosed house and squat. He convinces his family and friends to join him. Unfortunately, the episode only lasts one day before the police give them seventy-two hours to leave. However, that one small act of rebellion, of assertiveness is enough to rekindle a spark of hope. Hope is never enough to provide a fairy tale ending, though.

As she did in her earlier novel The Things We Do to Make It Home, Gologorsky provides a glimpse into what it means to be working class and human in today’s USA. Always subject to the whims of bosses, politicians, bankers and the Pentagon, her characters till manage to maintain their basic belief in each other. The disgust with the fates handed to them by those forces is always present in her tales; indeed it often turns to a justified and righteous anger directed both at those fates and those whose actions cause them to happen. Every Body Has a Story is an emotionally taut tale that is also a specific, personal and unbending critique of the system of neoliberal capitalism.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.