Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review: "Union Dues" by John Sayles

Sometimes a book’s one good quality makes it immensely readable and worth a recommendation, and that perfectly sums up my feelings on John Sayles’ novel Union Dues, a novel taking place at the tail-end of the sixties, and is sort of a back-handed love letter to that era (to be honest, with Inherent Vice and Already Dead, I’m tired of this type of book). I liked Sayles’ most recent book, the pet-crushing A Moment in the Sun for its sheer audacity that it reveled in every chance it got. But this earlier novel I don’t like as much, despite it having some qualities that are better here than A Moment in the Sun, most importantly its dialogue and cast of characters, which is as rich and rewarding as anything I have read in recent memory. But when it comes to the structure of the novel, the ideas that hold it together, it doesn’t form a cohesive unit. The plot of the novel involves a father and son, Hunter and Hobie McNutt still reeling from the death of the mother. Hobie, in a panic, decides to run away from home and join a disparate group of radicals traveling throughout New England. On his search for his son, Hunter falls in with a number of union laborers just trying to make ends meet. The dialogue here from Sayles, also a successful filmmaker, is impeccable and so entertaining, from the perfectly rendered Boston accent, complete with phonetic spelling of certain words, to the song Hobie hears about Jesus that shows religions connection to the high you get from drugs. There are also a sex scene and a moment involving a stopped up toilet that are the funniest I’ve read in awhile. My main complaint though, is that the cast of supporting characters greatly overshadow Hunter and Hobie, who are simply vessels for the events at best, and get in the way at their worst, making the shock ending kind of a letdown. Still, this book is quite a thrilling near 400-page sit by a true unheralded master of fiction.

Rating: 4/5

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