Mr. Bookman was sent a preliminary review copy, as I recall. I’m posting it with his approval.
I liked your book very much.
Big trouble in Appalachia. Set in coal country, “Point of the Pick” unwinds the tangled tale of the United Mine Workers from its existential labor battles in the 1930s to the organized crime entanglements of the 1970s. Along the way, there are big diversions into the hippie culture and student unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s, and organized crime in Pittsburgh and environs.
The author clearly knows whereof he speaks. The descriptions in the mines drip and reek. Retired miners constantly cough due to the black lung. The writing is strongest in the mining history sections, somewhat less compelling in the hippie and student radical chapters.
West Virginia’s governor in the 1970s was an imported blueblood, Jay Rockefeller. A hilarious caricature appears in the novel. In these passages, the governor’s “doing time” as a way station to the Senate is often contrasted with the hard lives of the local people. In a short passage about the song made popular by John Denver, the author writes, “Even our identity—and a false one to boot—is shipped in from the outside and stuck on us. That schmaltz runs in on a track parallel to the one hauling our coal out, which is the only reason we are valued. If we didn’t mine coal to keep the TVs fired up, we’d be walled in on our Appalachian reservation and left to rot in our miseries.”
The title ‘the point of the pick’ has multiple meanings. The pick of course is where coal mining begins. “Your labor at the point of the pick gives coal its value.” A reporter, a woman out as much for herself as for the story, is a recurring character. Her name? Alison Pickering, otherwise known as “Pick.”
“Point of the Pick” is unpublished. The author read my review of “A Time to Stir”, a collection of essays about the student uprising at Columbia. He asked whether I would be interested in his novel and after some back and forth, we were able to convert his 900-page word document into a Kindle-readable format.
I am glad we were successful. I learned a lot about the coal industry and organized crime’s move in the 1960s and 1970s into organized labor. Overall, the book is well written. Almost any manuscript would benefit from a close proofread to eliminate typos and untangle syntax. In terms of continung developmental work, the dramatic ending in the coal mine comes almost out of nowhere. It could use a more artful set-up as the protagonists ponder their mortality. The pivotal figure of Gus also would benefit from further development. I am tempted to say that the author should shorten the book by striking out one or two of his darling characters or stories, but I am unable to suggest which one, as all sidelights are interesting.
Some novels probe characters and situations, others provide good stories. “Point of the Pick” is a corker of a story and deserves a wider audience.
Charles A. Bookman, February 28, 2019