What an amazingly intense, funny, and accurate book. For a time, I was reading this alongside a biography of Basquiat, and the overlap – in terms of descriptions of excess – was remarkable. Though the book checks in at just shy of 700 pages, there is not a page wasted as Wolfe creates characters whose lives revolve around one incident that happens one night in the Bronx. Despite his fondness for unsubtle names (Bacon, Lamb, etc.), Wolfe’s book could easily be one of the proverbial “ripped from the headlines” stories. No one and no moment is spared. This is a classic.
All I remember about the movie is the controversy around the selection of Tom Hanks. I’m curious about it, though I am not that interested in watching it. Wolfe’s world was more than enough. And that, I suppose, was part of the problem.
For a book that is at least in some part about labeling, it is kind of stunning that the subtitle – How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town – is so very wrong. Granted, it reflects the most interesting part of the book, but it is, at most, a third of it. Much time, too much time, is spent in covering the very much intertwined history of the Bassett Furniture Company. The family tree is next to impossible to follow, and at some point, I just stopped caring. This section could be summed up as such —
The Bassett Company has been around a while in the same place and has evolved a great deal.
A rivalry developed between two family members. One family member left and started on his own.
Globalization hit. This man, John Bassett III, for a wide variety of motives, fought back and made some impressive inroads. (Macy never really makes the case for his saving an American town.)
The book was more interesting to me on a macro-level. I am no economist. But it seemed to me that Macy’s driving question is one about priorities. By the end, she abandons any pretense of journalistic neutrality and lands firmly on the side of the worker. And she has a point. Many of these skilled craftspeople were too old for retraining and too distant from any opportunities that retraining – however kindly it was meant – could make possible for them. The question I thought about mostly is – who is the economy for? The worker? The consumer? The owner? And therefore, who should our government work most to protect?
There is something very odd about exporting wood to China to have it return as furniture. Macy never really answers the challenge put to her by former furniture worker Wanda Perdue: “I want you to see what they do in Indonesia and explain to me why we can’t do that here no more.” That’s my bias as well. Ms. Perdue’s question deserves an answer.
Apparently, Tom Hanks is going to produce a mini-series based on the book.