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Union Dues (1977)

by John Sayles

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1341159,284 (3.64)2
The setting is Boston, Fall 1969. Radical groups plot revolution, runaway kids prowl the streets, cops are at their wits end, and work is hard to get, even for hookers. Hobie McNutt, a seventeen year old runaway from West Virginia drifts into a commune of young revolutionaries. It's a warm, dry place, and the girls are very available. But Hobie becomes involved in an increasingly vicious struggle for power in the group, and in the mounting violence of their political actions. His father Hunter, who has been involved in a brave and dangerous campaign to unseat a corrupt union president in the coal miners union, leaves West Virginia to hunt for his runaway son. To make ends meet, he takes day-labor jobs in order to survive while searching for him. Living parallel lives, their destinies ultimately movingly collide in this sprawling classic of radicalism across the generations, in the vein of Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, and Richard Price.… (more)
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John Sayles is so fabulous at capturing the history of a people and making its politics tangible. His most recent work, the epic A Moment in the Sun, pulled me in completely with its focus on the dawn of the 20th century. In this earlier work, Union Dues, Sayles captures so much of the time-specific visuals he rendered in A Moment…, but moves it nearly seventy years later, to the radical 1960s.

Union Dues tackles labor and revolution. As someone who is deeply interested in the 1960s group known as the Weathermen, I enjoyed this book's nods to the group. Though Sayles used the fictitious Third Way, a group that aims to be less radical than other revolutionary groups (e.g. The Weathermen), he captures the inner workings and sentiments in a way that is convincing. Between the dialogue and the action, Sayles forms a story that is quite believable and breathes naturally.

Wrestling with politics, class, and generational issues, Union Dues asks some tough questions. It lacks the scope, the sheer brilliance of A Moment in the Sun, and perhaps some of its organic growth, but it is an excellent story on its own, particularly for those interested in the era. ( )
  chrisblocker | Jan 1, 2019 |
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The boy leaned out from his porch to look down the long row of wooden-box houses.
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The setting is Boston, Fall 1969. Radical groups plot revolution, runaway kids prowl the streets, cops are at their wits end, and work is hard to get, even for hookers. Hobie McNutt, a seventeen year old runaway from West Virginia drifts into a commune of young revolutionaries. It's a warm, dry place, and the girls are very available. But Hobie becomes involved in an increasingly vicious struggle for power in the group, and in the mounting violence of their political actions. His father Hunter, who has been involved in a brave and dangerous campaign to unseat a corrupt union president in the coal miners union, leaves West Virginia to hunt for his runaway son. To make ends meet, he takes day-labor jobs in order to survive while searching for him. Living parallel lives, their destinies ultimately movingly collide in this sprawling classic of radicalism across the generations, in the vein of Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, and Richard Price.

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