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Dirty Work Paperback – Feb 2014
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Against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, most of the action takes place on the mean streets of SaFranko's/Zajack's home town, Trenton, New Jersey. As the prospect of being drafted grinds away his nerves, all attempts to escape his environs are continually frustrated.
Fans of SaFranko's previous Zajack novels will know what to expect. Raw-edged and tough, SaFranko's prose style inevitably draws comparisons to Charles Bukowski, although Bukowski's later works such as Ham on Rye and Hot Water Music are probably a better compass than the earlier stuff.
DIRTY WORK isn’t just about work that gets your hands dirty (although Max does plenty of that), it tells of a young man’s ambitions to do more with his life, to create and to write without the luxury of time, or any financial safety nets. Whilst it may hold true that one doesn’t have to take this arduous path to be a great writer, for me it seems to help. Most of the writer’s that have meant anything to me have looked out of the windows of shit-holes, not the ivory towers of academia.
Maybe working dead end jobs with little men who wield power like a night stick helps you get a perspective on life in the margins that the privileged rarely venture into fictionally or in actuality. But it’s in this space between work and one’s dreams that the soul gets worked on, beaten a little, pushed around, forced into taking work that doesn’t even pay the bills. And out of this assault, if you survive it, you finally find you have answered the questions of what you are, who you are, and how you came to be.
In the middle of this grind, we find Max, who is alone amongst his colleagues in wanting to do something else, to be something else. “Wanting to write was like wanting to be an astronaut – it just wasn’t done, and there was no around me who had a clue.” Reading Henry Miller becomes a defining moment as our narrator takes heart from his words of advice for writers and there is a marked shift in how Max perceives himself from this point in the novel onwards.
DIRTY WORK is not a moan about work, it’s not a celebration either. It is believable, and funny and honest. Max gets himself into some scrapes with his libido, his lethargy and his love of daydreaming. There are moments of tenderness in the novel too, such as when Max takes a job as a chauffer/companion for an older lady who whilst testing Max’s patience also reminds him that, “the universe is cruel, Max”.
SaFranko writes clearly and without sentiment and this novel indirectly and subtly expounds on class, youth, ambition, and the zeal and guts it takes to do something more than the 9 to 5. SaFranko reminds us that to doubt is just as human as to err but out of this doubt one can gain a perception on the world that gives you something to say and that something is worth hearing. Get this book and then get everything else SaFranko has written. If you are new to his work I am envious of the treat you have in store.
SaFranko's Max Zajack novels are right up there with the very best of Charles Bukowski and John and Dan Fante - and this one is no exception. A great book.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I first got into an interaction with SaFranko when I had simply posted a review of my Signed and Numbered copy of The Favor written by Mark many moons ago. I did a detailed interview with him which spanned a dozen pages. I was overjoyed at finding him. Because finding him meant finding myself. I was a lucky hack writer at the time, who had been published many times in pulp magazines of USA. Only short stories and articles and travelogues. But just like SaFranko I was also a Jack of multiple trades. It seems all aspiring literary personalities go through similar or same phases and situations in life. No matter the fact that I am born and brought up in decadent Mumbai, India and he in good old USA. He was at the time being celebrated in the newspapers of Guardian UK. He even had a column there. I thought, yes, the American Dream is real. He made it. I can make it too.
Every chapter and every page of Dirty Work reflects the sad and despicable life of a wannabe artist. I too went through phases where it seems I shouldn't write because I have not read everything that is considered important literature. Then fluttering through low paying and high paying jobs. Never feeling an ounce of job satisfaction. Moving from one place to another and still being in the same damned spot in career and life. Women who want you but know there is nothing to have with you. Relationships spilled all over the table cloth and onto the piss-vomit stained floors. Friends, old ones, tagging along. Living a day at a time.
Yet the wonder and yearning remains. The big epic work of art that hides in my soul and that of every educated unemployed bum in civilised nations. Mark SaFranko had once made me feel the Dream can happen. It can materialise. I could be that man in a suit signing autographs on Title Pages of my own damned book. Then over time I realised the pain he has been through to deliver what he has.
And forget that. He still hasn't made it big time. He still isn't hosting award shows. He still isn't rolling in million dollar royalty checks from top publishing houses.
So where does that put me and my fantasies and the future as a fulltime author? Well, that is all in here at DIRTY WORK. Its like a book length fortune cookie telling me to get off my seat and get some work done. Dreams and aspirations are all fine. But you gotta get up and do something about it at some point of time. It is sad that Mark SaFranko still struggles to get noticed in the list of books made by all and sundry. But he did it. He did what he believed he wanted to do. That is always better than sitting on my seat and thinking what-if or could-it.
Read Dirty Work not because it is a page-turner or because it was critically acclaimed. Read it because there are a hundred parallels between his life and so many others who want to catch that Polar Express to Santa Land.