Thursday, August 7, 2014

The New Men by Jon Enfield

Morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Jon Enfield's The New Men.

In 1914 Henry Ford introduced a truly revolutionary idea - a $5 workday. The pay increase was in the form of profit sharing and the company had strict requirements for eligibility. To enforce this the Sociological department was created. Anthony Grams, an immigrant from Italy, is newly promoted to the department and believes he is part of something truly great. The job allows him to support his family and he's helping the company in creating a new work force. But Tony soon realizes the job isn't all it's cracked up to be. The onset of WWI brings about a change in the US and with it come the harsh new realities of living in the United States. 

This particular gem in American history is pretty fascinating all told. I had absolutely no idea that this had ever happened. On the one hand I'm in awe of an idea that seemed like the beginning of a fair wage but am shocked that investigators were allowed access to every piece of a person's life to determine if they were worthy. To give an example of what Enfield outlines as being undesirable traits, Sociological was apparently on the lookout for people who would be spending their hard earned wage in unacceptable ways - too much alcohol, gambling, and anyone who exhibited behavior beyond "clean-living." And of course undesirables weren't eligible.

At first, Tony is 100% behind his job. But when the checks and restrictions start to hit a little too close to home I think he begins to realize just how precarious his position and that of the workers really is. He himself has spent his money on prostitutes, is later blamed for a pregnancy he isn't responsible for (which seemed much like an act of vengeance), and sees in his own family behaviors he's supposed to weed out in Ford employees.

With the war, the whole sentiment in the US changes. As an immigrant he himself faces some of the prejudice but none so much as his friend Merry and as Thia's Jewish father. Tension escalates, bringing the plot to an inevitable tragic point.

The New Men is a pretty great historical fiction. I was not only impressed by how much effort Enfield obviously put into the history side of the tale (and he does outline some of his research in the Historical Note) but how well the story read as a whole. The characters were real and the plot was interesting. I'd worried that it would be too focused on labor issues and Ford, but that turned out not to be the case in the least.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Jon Enfield and his work you can visit his website here.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Sounds like the author did a fantastic job combining the history with a great story!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.