SOCIAL SCIENCES

The Good Hand: A Memoir of Work, Brotherhood, and Transformation in an American Boomtown

Viking. Feb. 2021. 464p. ISBN 9781984881519. $29. SOC SCI
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Smith peppers his narrative about moving to the oil town of Williston, ND, with vivid descriptions of the poor, dangerous, occasionally violent, overwhelmingly white male inhabitants of the oil fields, and the flophouses that sprang up to support them. Comparisons with J.D. Vance will be unavoidable, and as with Hillbilly Elegy, the book attempts to describe and present a lifestyle that is starkly different from that of the stereotypical middle-class coastal resident. Part social commentary, part memoir, this is a sprawling, uneven book. At times it reads like the coming-of-age story of a man grappling with memories of a tragic, supremely dysfunctional youth. At other times it reads as a history primer, with brief biological sketches of historical figures who have also spent time in North Dakota. In still other moments, there is a nearly journalistic recounting of conversations and events that occur during his time in Williston, creating a vivid image of a cast of characters that seems primed for depiction in film or television.
VERDICT This lengthy volume will appeal to those interested in masculinity studies and memoirs dealing with family dysfunction, as well anyone curious about life in an oil boomtown during the early 2010s.

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