This was one of the books I picked up through a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by non-fiction and human-interest stories. Amy Goldstein was one writer I had not heard of that afternoon in August, but something called to me.
As I started reading, I felt an instant connection because of the setting – Wisconsin. Just the cover alone made me think of the snow-covered hills and woods at my cousin Ryan’s house in Hortonville when we visited in the late 1990s.
But this story is more than that. It’s about multiple families and their take on one thing, one monumental event – The GM plant closing in 2008. What follows is the next five years of how this town of industry claws its way back from the brink, and how so many people were affected by what is now known as the Great Recession.
I liked how Goldstein divided the book by year. It doesn’t always work out well this way, but the way she structured it was solid. Keeping up with the cast of characters was a bit challenging, but it was nice to have a list of them at the beginning, before you even start reading.
One of the biggest takeaways of this book is how large the ripple effect is. It not only affects the workers, it affects the unions, their marriages, their relationships, their families, their political focuses, and more. And still, by the end of the book, Janesville has reached 2013. Have things gotten better? It’s hard to say. Goldstein’s on-the-ground reporting, going deep into Janesville and its people, is amazing research. I could tell she really got to know the people in the book, as well as a sense of the whole community.
Goldstein also attempts to balance the light and dark, so to speak. She looks at the GM workers and those struggling with layoffs and disappearing industry. A few pages later, she ties in Mary, the well-to-do head of the local bank, who is fundraising and trying her best to help others, while she is at the top of the heap in terms of wealth. Goldstein also shines a light on Paul Ryan, other political candidates, and Governor Scott Walker.
As complex as this book is, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it. I felt a sense of understanding, but not empathy. In 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I know I come from a family of privilege. My parents only had to worry a handful of times when the government shut down and my dad was furloughed.
That was certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful, heartbreaking, and frustrating as watching your livelihood simply vanish. And trying to keep your house. Keeping your marriage and family together. Watching your teenage kids work one, two, three jobs to help out. Sometimes losing loved ones entirely, whether it was health issues brought on by stress, or not finding a way out other than wanting to end your life.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂