HARDBARNED! One Man’s Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South

by Christopher J. Driver

Verdict: In turn reflective and irreverent, Christopher J. Driver masterfully evades bitterness throughout his endeavors to find employment, and finally grows his experience into a moving reflection in his memoir HARDBARNED!

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What Christopher J. Driver wanted to do was write, but the bills had to be paid. “Bewildered and defeated by [his] inability to make [his] education work for [him],” Driver found himself delivering storage barns over a period of three years. Not the PODS you might be thinking of, as Driver dutifully points out, but these gigantic metal sheds you reluctantly pass on the highway with their “oversize load” banners ominously flapping in the wind, wondering if you’re about to die some Final Destination IV death. “It lasted longer than any job I’d ever had before. It made me angrier than anything I’ve ever experienced. It became the employment-based measuring stick against which I compared anything I’d ever done for money,” Driver writes.

One day, after a false maneuver causes him to shatter the back windshield of his boss and friend Mitch’s Chevy, Driver ends up communing with a four-foot Plastic Jesus. He finds himself longing for the peace Plastic Jesus and his extended arms exude. Thus, begins Driver’s endeavor of writing about Barns, which he humorously dubs “the healthy hate receptacle.” What started as a series of blog posts in 2008 soon turned into a book, featuring thirty or so reflections on meaningful work, Barn Land (“a rural multi-state Southeastern region”), and the darkly comical misery of jobs across a wide spectrum of collar colors.

In turn reflective (“I was surely a more difficult spouse to live with in those years. It helped to be married to a mental health professional.”) and irreverent (“Trust me. I was there. I shit you not.”), but always with lightness of touch, Driver provides insight into the condition of a generation that had been promised access to dreams with a liberal education, but was left instead with a mountain of debt, dreams to undo, and endless reality checks, moving from job to job, all the while looking for meaning and purpose.

Driver’s memoir pieces have a distinctive and recognizable voice, and exhibit the writer’s strong command of style; they are meticulously precise and descriptive, providing us with detailed landscapes and characters, and will even dive wittily into “barn methodology.” The reader acquires delivery lingo, such as “MFS vs GPS” (“Meet and Follows” vs “Global Positioning Systems,”) while also learning that many customers cannot clearly explain where they live—in what seems like a metaphor for the confusing waters of employment and life purpose Driver himself is attempting to navigate.

Driver’s “three-year course in anger management” pays off with this collection, sparking reflections such as whether outdoor physical labor or office most feeds the human soul. Timelines can be a little hard to follow, however: essays focused on the barn delivery work are interspersed with pieces that reminisce past jobs (from Driver’s youth and on). This sometimes gives the collection a split feel and some readers may find themselves wishing these were two different books, especially since the Barn-themed pieces are of one particularly enticing voice. Additionally, some of these pieces could have been whittled down—perhaps work an editor with an eye toward conciseness would have known to do—and some of the personal items, such as photographs, might have been omitted, in an effort to invite any reader into picturing themselves in Driver’s shoes, letting the words work on their own (although pictures of a pick-up on fire do lend tremendous credibility to Driver’s adventures).

Overall, however, you will never look at storage barns the same way, and you will be moved by the mentorship provided by Mitch, who supplies Chris with the Barn job. You will also learn how sometimes the word “Barn” is all you need to say, but most of all, you will laugh.

~Emily Martin for IndieReader


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