HARDBARNED! One Man’s Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South
Hardbarned recounts the experiences of a punk-rock-loving English major (actually, he has his Master’s) laboring in the blue-collar industry of pre-made barn hauling. (It was news to me too that this was an industry. Think of the trucks that deliver mobile homes, only hauling various sizes of backyard barns.) Author Christopher Driver finds himself in this peculiar occupation because of an increasingly desperate state of unemployment, a visceral dislike for cubicles, and a chance connection. Needless to say, hauling barns isn’t Driver’s dream job. And, in the course of detailing his years of barn-hauling, he manages to capture much of the frustration and existential despair that aspiring writers and artists encounter while struggling to earn their keep in a world that is generally indifferent to their labors. Driver’s search for a writing job takes place, unfortunately, during some of the worst moments in the American economy (right in that 2008-era sweet spot), and his feelings of futility and frustration will resonate with many of those who have found themselves in similar positions (and majors).
One of the most pleasant surprises about Hardbarned is Driver’s prose. Driver’s voice is familiar but articulate, and his writing flows easily and well. Through it, he traces both his three years hauling barns, as well as the formative moments of his earlier life, which flesh out the reader’s understanding—and perhaps his own—of just how he ended up hauling barns in the deep South. Though Driver himself is from the South, he had a more urbane upbringing in a comparatively cosmopolitan southern city, a rather different beast than NASCAR country. He admits to his own reluctance to perpetuate negative stereotypes about the South, but he also unfortunately finds himself face-to-face to some of the very people who rather help those stereotypes endure. He nods to some of the socio-economic factors that contribute to his clients’ lifestyles and personalities, but he also is unsparing in his descriptions. In one especially memorable episode, he describes delivering a barn to a man who “didn’t seem to have any intention of talking to me about anything, because as soon as I nodded in agreement, he went right back to tearing back and forth around the property on the ATV, standing up most of the time, kicking up dust and gravel as he spun in circles, screaming nonsense.”
The only sticking points of the book are its inclusion of illustrations and photos and the at times comparatively less interesting interludes about his growing up. The photos don’t always translate well onto the black and white page and are often on the grainy side. While a handful of photos are visually helpful to the story or add a comedic touch, it’s not clear why others of the photos have been included, as they seem a bit banal and add little to the narrative. The inclusion of the illustrations is rather sweet, given that they’re drawn by Driver’s wife, Tarri, but, though it pains me to say it, they don’t add much to the story, either, and are somewhat jarring to encounter stylistically. Narratively, Driver doesn’t always manage to navigate that fine line between judgment of the characters he encounters deep in “barn land” and acknowledgement of the South’s socio-economic problems they belie. But these are relatively slight issues, and the book, overall, is engaging, entertaining, and enlightening to read. He offers a glimpse into a world—barn-hauling—most people have never encountered, which turns out to be both more complicated and more harrowing than most would imagine. Readers will delight in Driver’s friendly and articulate writing and will feel genuine kinship for him in his attempts to get both himself and his truck out of a succession of ruts.
|Mill City Press
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