AMERICAN PRECARIAT

PARABLES OF EXCLUSION

Important stories of the unseen and unspoken that illuminate a growing class in America.

A collection of essays and conversations about living in America without a safety net.

There is a growing class, especially in the U.S., not characterized by politics, race, or religion, but by economic uncertainty and lack of stability. Defined by the British economist Guy Standing as “the precariat,” this class cuts across broad swaths of the population: immigrants, prisoners, and gig workers, but also college graduates, homeowners, and artists. “We build community,” writes Caligiuri, “because we can’t expect, demand, or control the machinations of the captivity business.” Featuring contributions from Kiese Laymon, Valeria Luiselli, Steve Almond, Lacy M. Johnson, and other prominent writers, this book, edited by a collective of incarcerated writers in Minnesota, demonstrates what it means to live a life dominated by uncertainty. Among the subjects are a teacher struggling to free herself from a $386,000 debt from loans her gambling-addicted mother took out in her name without her knowledge; people living at a rest stop in Oregon; a gig worker delivering food to the Manhattan wealthy during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic; and a group of U.S. Forest Service scientists working to save trees in Oregon and California as climate change decimates forests and other natural habitats. Almost all of the essays are enlightening, speaking to the resilience with which these people address their despair. Trees share this determination, notes Lauren Markham. “The living will do whatever they need to survive,” she writes. “I had seen one desiccated former tree whose branches were covered in hundreds of cones….Sensing it will die, the tree bursts forth into cones in a frantic final act of hope: not so much for itself, but for its species.” A thoughtful conversation among the editors caps each moving essay, and the book features an introduction by Eula Biss.

Important stories of the unseen and unspoken that illuminate a growing class in America.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9781566896955

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2023

POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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