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Jack Conroy, The Disinherited

Jack Conroy's 1933 proletarian novel The Disinherited is a fine account of working class life in the Midwest during the 1920s and early 30s. The story follows the narrator Larry Donovan from his childhood in a Missouri coal mine camp to nearby jobs in a railroad shop, steel mill and rubber factory, and then on to Detroit and an automobile assembly line, during which time the economy implodes and he makes his way back home to Missouri and whatever life he can piece together there. The trouble is, though, that the book is more of a documentary than a novel. Despite the vividness of the descriptive prose, I feel like I now know far more about the rural Missouri of the 1920s than I do about any of the characters, even including Larry Donovan. In addition to thin characterization, the scenes shift awkwardly from one factory to the next, the text a plot-heavy picaresque which doesn't flow very gracefully. The book's introduction describes how Conroy first wrote the book as a series of autobiographical sketches, later transforming it to a novel only at the request of its original publisher, a revelation which comes as no surprise to the reader. Overall, it was an interesting read, but would have worked much more effectively as a memoir instead of a novel.

November 30, 2009 in Books | Permalink