Set in a fictional economically depressed Massachusetts town, RING ON DELI is based on Bay State author Eric Giroux’s personal experience working for the Market Basket supermarket chain and the real-life 2014 protests by employees in that state to demand the reinstatement of a fired CEO who valued the workers. The book is a loving tribute to the ordinary people who keep a community going that recognizes their flaws and a satire of the battles for power in corporate America that provide gossip for the financial-news media.
Brothers Ray and Patrick Markham move into the town of Pennacook after big brother Ray becomes Patrick’s legal guardian, their parents having been killed in an accident five years earlier. Pennacook is on its last legs. The factories have long since closed down and wild boars – descended from pigs who escaped the old pork farms of the surrounding countryside – roam the desolate streets. Bounty Bag, the local chain-affiliated supermarket, is Pennacook’s main employer and its biggest tax base. When book-smart Ray takes a job in Bounty Bag’s deli department, he discovers he has a talent for making sandwiches and managing people, and he quickly settles into his job. Meanwhile, Regina Chong, the principal of Pennacook’s high school – inexplicably named for one of the worst U.S. Presidents, Andrew Johnson – will pull any trick to get a tax increase approved by the voters for upgrading the school’s crumbling infrastructure, even as some of their teachers, like the cancer-ridden history teacher, go the extra mile to provide a quality education.
The characters in RING ON DELI are not very admirable; they will do what is convenient for short-term gain and give in to temptation too easily. Ray is college material but takes the easy way out by committing himself to his supermarket job thanks to Bounty Bag’s generous employee benefits. The aimless Patrick cuts school and runs away to live with his buddy, Muscles Carbonara, who sells drugs and – with Patrick’s help – steals chickens from Bounty Bag to resell them. Meanwhile, Dr. Chong lives in a basement apartment in a more affluent town rather than among the residents of Pennacook and has an affair with a married prep-school teacher while trying to climb the social ladder. But you can’t help but admire these characters for their pluckiness and resourcefulness, and smile at their exploits as they strive to keep going. Like the characters of a road-rally movie, you root for them all, but you have no idea who’s going to come out ahead.
When Angie Martini, Bounty Bag’s magnanimous CEO, loses her position to her elitist brother Chesley after their kid sister switches sides in a bizarre family power struggle, Ray has to chose between his own economic interests and those of the workers who walk out and rally to get Angie reinstated and save the company from Chesley’s draconian cuts. Ray’s ultimate decision – and the fate of Dr. Chong’s tax campaign – join in a single plotline designed to shock and delight on its way to a thrilling conclusion.
RING ON DELI is a rich, incisive story that vividly illustrates the inequities in the American economy and offers a serious look at those fighting to hold on to what they have and those who join them in the fight. Whether you call it a page-turner, a must-read, or a story you can’t put down at night, RING ON DELI lives up to every enthusiastically positive description about a novel.
~Steven Maginnis for IndieReader