Verdict: The construction industry seldom is the topic of serious literature, but in THE BUILDING it rises to great heights, a distinctly American tragedy destined to endure on college reading lists.
Where there’s muck there’s brass. Or you might say, where there are bricks, concrete and rebar, there’s gold. As THE BUILDING demonstrates, there also is a sense of greatness and ownership that touches everyone involved in a major construction project. And there is always the possibility — both literal and figurative — of falling from great heights.
THE BUILDING takes place over a single day in the fictional city of Furnass, located in the Pittsburgh hill-and-river country of western Pennsylvania. The city’s steel mills are dead, so it’s a mystery why anyone would think it’s a good market for expensive residential towers. Julian Lyle, the building’s quixotic owner, is as blind to the financial excesses of his architect as he is to the disrepair of his offices.
But it is the novel’s anti-hero, Jack Crawford — the arthritic, mean-mouthed, hulking construction superintendent — who is willfully blind. Jack turns away from the emotional injury he causes. He fails to see impending danger despite compulsively watching out for the physical safety of all around him, including a young building inspector he derides for lack of experience and impels toward a terrible decision.
Richard Snodgrass is an art photographer who captures loss in his black and white “When There Was Steel” series appearing on his homepage. His writing is similarly elegiac due to keen sensory description as in the novel’s opening stream-of-consciousness tour of Furnass. From dark to dawn, a breeze crawls the streets, strengthening and presaging trouble. This is the first in a number of lyrical, single-sentence interludes creating a topography of the town and introducing different characters’ perspectives of the day’s events.
THE BUILDING is book one of what will be the Furnass Towers Trilogy. Like the Mississippi William Faulkner evoked in his Yoknapatawpha County novels, Furnass commemorates a slice of the Rust Belt as a singular place and time of sadness yet endurance.
The construction industry seldom is the topic of serious literature, but in THE BUILDING it rises to great heights, a distinctly American tragedy destined to endure on college reading lists.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader