Thanks to author C.G. Gibbs for getting in touch. I bought a copy of his first novel, Factory Days, and enjoyed it very much. As Gibbs writes, there are few books or films about factory life:
“No one builds memorials to closed factories or bull-dozed factories. No one makes movies about what happened there. Factories are, at best, used as backdrops for people with more interesting lives, like super-heroes, doctors or cops. No one writes about that concentrated, small life, that micro-history. It disappears into oblivion, as if it never happened. As if it is not worth remembering except to the people who went through it. The people in that life, their work, and let’s face it, their lives, are not thought significant enough to remark upon. Like the hidden gears of a great machine, they are as invisible as people can be. And it doesn’t matter what their color or ethnic background is. They are truly invisible men – they are the invisible people.”
This is working class political fiction but without – and I cannot stress this enough – “workerism”. There is no worship of blue overalls. No mawkishness about the “dignity of labour”. The factory is a prison and for most of those who are released, life outside prison means poverty.
The novel makes occasional and oblique references to events in working class history, such as the Haymarket Martyrs, but these are only distant echoes of a lost tradition. This adds to its authenticity, and to a mood of sombre, subdued anger: it is not only our labour that is stolen, but also our heritage. Our cultural history is out there; it has not been entirely forgotten, but it is not articulated, it is only dulled and distorted through the prism of corporations like Netflix.
In Factory Days the central character, Malachy O’Corrigan, has had enough. The last straw is when he gets unjustly fired for alleged sabotage, which means he even loses the pittance of redundancy pay. This is Reagan’s America of the 1980s and the unions are in full retreat; the only escape is through an individual act. And maybe a desperate one.
It is all very American (the villain charged with closing the factory is a particularly nasty Brit, and the arch capitalist behind him bears remarkable similarities to the Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch – as though they don’t have their own capitalists in the USA). The first half of the book features many minor characters, which is a slight flaw in terms of narrative, perhaps, even if this does reflect the reality of a large workplace. When O’Corrigan leaves factory work the pace picks up and the focus is on just three or four people on whom he depends, and the cops who are after him. I read the second half of the book in just a couple of sittings.
Gibbs’ style is fast-paced and engaging, despite the underlying anger. The narrative passages are interspersed with streams of consciousness reflecting the confused jumble of thoughts rushing through O’Corrigan’s head. It reminded me of American crime writers such as Elmore Leonard and even Cormac McCarthy.
The ending suggests that there is more to come. Gibbs says he has two more novels in the works.
There are (unfortunately for me, because I have a bad habit of noticing these things) a lot of typos and small errors in the book. That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. I have seen manuscripts by world-famous authors that have just as many, if not more. The point is that a novel such as Factory Days deserves a wider audience, but to get one you’d need to get it accepted by a publisher, who would get a wage slave to edit it, another wage slave to proof-read it, and then an agency to promote it. And the author might then have a best-seller and, if he is lucky, get a return on the hundreds of hours of effort he has invested.
But the sad fact is that the literary mafia will not touch a book like this. Not these days. The characters are too genuinely working class. They are not idealized, they are portrayed just the way they are, which is not always pleasant. Fashionable identity politics (or the “literature of inclusion”, as it is now called) is entirely absent. For the literary mafia, the working class is not defined in economic terms, it is just one dimension of “diversity” or defined by “regionalism”.
Factory Days by contrast reminds the reader that for most of us, “inclusion” in the system only extends as far as the appropriation of our labour for the production of commodities, and only so long as this is profitable. The novel is therefore “dedicated to all the factory workers whose workplaces closed on them. May they not rest in peace”.
C.G. Gibbs lives in Minnesota. He has worked in factories and offices, and has been involved in union activity and socialist politics for most of his life. Factory Days is available direct from the May Day Bookstore in Minnesota or online, e.g. Amazon in paperback or as an e-book.