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Sunday, April 22, 2018

JANESVILLE: AN AMERICAN STORY (audiobook) by Amy Goldstein

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in 2017.
Read by Joy Osmanski
Duration: 10 hours, 1 minute

Amy Goldstein tells the story of Janesville, Wisconsin after its large General Motors SUV plant closed and thousands of employees lost their jobs. On its surface, this book has the potential of being one of the most boring books that you have ever read. But, Goldstein has a real talent when it comes to storytelling and makes this story very compelling.

With the beginnings of the Great Recession, General Motors found itself in serious trouble. They had invested in manufacturing large, expensive, gas-guzzling SUV's when the price of gas was more then $4/gallon and the credit market was getting so tight that it was hard for people to qualify for loans for a $40,000 SUV.

When GM closed this plant it caused an economic shockwave to tear through the community, closing most of the other factories in town that supplied the GM facility. Housing prices fell with the housing bubble and fell even more as people tried to sell their homes and move away.

But, most didn't move away - most had a strong sense that Janesville was home and it was important to stay and try to make a go of it no matter what. Some transferred to other GM plants in other states and left their families behind and returned to Janesville on the weekends. Others tried to retrain for new jobs with the help of government grants only to discover that there weren't a lot of jobs out there, no matter how well trained you were. Others just picked up as many hours as they could in as many part time jobs as possible and GM buyout plan.

Some families make it work. Others struggle mightily and come up a little short. Some just disintegrate and a few parents literally leave their children to fend for themselves while they move out and start over - a shocking development for a town that prides itself on its family connections, generosity and industriousness.

Goldstein tells the story with much sympathy. She keeps her politics out of the story for the most part (tough to do when 2012 Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan  is Janesville's local political star and his run for VP comes right in the middle of this story).

Janesville: An American Story goes nicely with two other books that I have listened to in the last 15 months: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Something is clearly not working for the American working class.

I rate this audibook an enthusiastic 5 stars out of 5. It was read well by Joy Osmanski - she helped make this story come alive.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Janesville: An American Story.

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