The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book review:
Sara Paretsky, Fire Sale

Oct 2, 2006

This recent novel features V.I. Warshawski, a woman private investigator in today’s Chicago. Returning to her old neighborhood in South Chicago to coach a girls’ basketball team, she finds the area still suffering from the closing of US Steel’s South Works mill. The novel is centered around the actions of a giant department store conglomerate called By-Smart and its workers, both in a retail store and a warehouse, in South Chicago.

The owners of By-Smart pay a young gang member to torch a local garment shop they have a dispute with over the cheapest possible production of U.S. flags and linen. The young Hispanic gang member spends months in Cook County Jail awaiting trial since he can’t afford bail, while the wealthy paymasters of the murder he carried out are released immediately on bail despite the solid evidence they ordered the killing, and then use interminable legal procedures to drag out their case.

The novel could be taken out of today’s headlines. The company is owned by a fundamentalist Christian, whose wife spends large amounts of her personal fortune on anti-abortion causes while paying for the abortion of her granddaughter. The preacher at a Hispanic fundamentalist church, which many By-Smart workers attend, puts a heavy emphasis on no contraceptives and no abortions, while teenage girls in his church get pregnant and have babies at an early age.

This novel gives a somewhat realistic portrayal of life in a poor working class Chicago neighborhood, showing the stresses on poor families – while revealing how the very wealthy are allowed to use every connection to get what they want.