Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
on 29 February 2016
It’s a strangely unsatisfactory read. I found Ehrenreich rather got in the way of the real story. On two counts. One, because she’s turned this cod-journalistic piece into a self-indulgent account of her own private challenge to live a half-baked breadline existence, rather than actually focus on the people genuinely experiencing the poverty trap. Finishing her Florida segment, for instance, with the glib acknowledgement, “I never found out what happened to George.”
Secondly, surprisingly, her actual prose. She’ll throw in jarringly inappropriate words just for the sheer fun (cleverness?) of it: “I pretend to study my check for a clue, but entropy has been up to its tricks, not only on the plate but in my head…” Entropy is a complicated concept - it’s meaning: 1.(communication theory) a numerical measure of the uncertainty of an outcome; 2.(thermodynamics) a thermodynamic quantity representing the amount of energy in a system that is no longer available for doing mechanical work. It’s clearly not the right word for that sentence. Food on a plate cannot suffer from entropy. It’s a lazy stab at sounding articulate.
Another example: “I was struck by what appeared to be an extreme case of demographic albinism”. She means there were a high proportion of white people in the area - not sufferers of the pigmentation disorder, albinism. They’re not the same thing.
And: “Then Holly starts up on one of those pornographic late-afternoon food conversations…” Pornographic? We’re not talking food-related sexual fetishes - we’re talking common culinary fantasies. Why ‘pornographic’?
Next let’s briefly unpick Ehrenreich’s casual meditation on the soul: “Is the soul that lives forever the one we possess at the moment of death, in which case heaven must look like the Woodcrest (an old people’s care home), with plenty of CNAs (?) and dietary aides to take care of those who died in a state of mental decomposition? Or is it our personally best soul- say, the one that dwells in us at the height of our cognitive powers…?” Now I’m no theosophical expert but isn’t Ehrenreich simply getting the mind and the soul fundamentally confused here?
I won’t dwell further on the littering of clumsy weaknesses in the prose, you get my drift. Returning to ‘count one’ - the content: it’s flimsy, lazy, repetitive and hardly investigative. It’s actually a conceited, self-serving account just as exploitative of the low waged as the malign employers she exposes. Throw away remarks such as these illustrate my point:
“If some enterprising journalist wants to test the low-wage way of life in darkest Idaho or Louisiana, more power to her. Call me gutless, but what I was looking for this time around was a comfortable correspondence between income and rent, a few mild adventures, a soft landing.”
“How did I do as a low-wage worker? If I may begin with a brief round of applause: I didn’t do half bad at the work itself (until you quit after a month or two?) , and I claim this as a considerable achievement. You might think that unskilled jobs would be a snap for someone with a Ph.D…” I’ll stop quoting at this umpteenth mention of her completely irrelevant Ph.D. I’m surprised Ehrenreich didn’t carry the scroll round with her to save her breath…
I am slightly maddened by this book, as well as hugely disappointed. Not my recommendation.