There should be an offence called Crime Against Literature! And Clemson Page should then be taken to the Court of Literary Trespasses and tried for it. His crime is to write the first Tome of a book and NOT to attend to Tome 2 in the 8 subsequent years. I am referring to UP HOME (STEDMAN)- 1903-1909. (Available at Amazon's) He should then be condemned to have his liberty deprived for a a period of six months, or the time it takes to complete the second part of the book, whichever is the shorter. His wife Eve should lock him from the outside six days a week, and only open the door to slide in the meal of his choice.
It is not uncommon to vaunt the work of a fellow Cowbirder to the skies, perhaps pretend that it just that little bit better than it really is. In the name of Club Loyalty. In the case of UP HOME, no such indulgence was required. I started reading the book expecting it to be no more than competent- if the man belongs to the same club as I do, he can’t be that good! But two pages of the book seriously disabused me of this view. This is a seriously good book, judging by the wealth of details alone. It is set in the mining community of Northern Pennsylvania. The miners hacking away at the anthracite are real people. Clem does not hesitate to give them common human traits, bad temper, unfairness, hard-working, loving, vicious, heroic ...
Tragedies happen because the owners are more concerned about productivity than safety, and can browbeat the workforce. The Trade Unions have very little power. Henry Gwynn loses his life to voracity. His young son David is a Rebel, but he isn’t without a cause. It happens that he cannot control his anger and gets himself into trouble. He is reminiscent of a young Arthur Scargill who stood up to Thatcher who called those brave men digging the bowels of the earth to keep the nation going the ENEMY WITHIN. He is a rounded character who comes alive as in the best fiction, although I suspect that Clem has based him and other characters on a real-life personages. Miners have rarely received the accolade they deserve in history. The over-rated Churchill did not hesitate to send in the troops to “deal with the miners” during the 1926 General Strike.
Whilst reading UP FRONT I was reminded of the book I had just finished before picking this one up: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road To The Deep North, which won the Booker in 2014. The authenticity of this book, set on the Thailand-Burma Railway being constructed by the Japanese during the war is rooted in the stories Flangan’s father, a Japanese POW told him for many years. In UP HOME, we suspect that Clemson must be intimately acquainted with mine lore. One gets the feeling of being in the mine, living in the community, but we know that he is a lawyer and a navy man, so, he too must have been educated by listening to his father or uncles or grandfathers into the life of miners- every single word, we hypothesise. The parallel between the two books does not end here. Clem too goes into the minds of his protagonists and what he extracts there is very credible and breath-taking. The chapter describing how a poor woman gets lost on the mountain pass in the snow is as harrowing as anything you might read in classic English literature. Hitchcock in words.
The first part ends with young David having lost his job at the Mine. He is barely fifteen. The reader wants to know more, and we believe that there must be more. Which is why I am advocating the drastic action I mentioned above.