The role of jobs in select audiences

via The New Yorker – May 30, 2017 Issue


The question of jobs in America has always been central to our political discourse.

This week’s Fiction Issue gets at the heart of what a job can be and mean through both fiction and nonfiction. For a reported piece, Margaret Talbot traveled to West Virginia, the state with the highest drug-overdose death rate in the country, to investigate the area’s destructive wave of opioid addiction. Why was West Virginia particularly susceptible to this epidemic? “The state has a disproportionate number of people who have jobs that cause physical pain, such as coal mining,” Talbot writes. “It also has high levels of poverty and joblessness, which cause psychic pain.” Many drug addicts, the publisher of a local newspaper told her, are “trying to escape the reality that this place doesn’t give them anything.”

In fiction: Sherman Alexie describes the life of a motel maid, whose years are punctuated by the human messes she disposes of, and the other maids who come and go; Will Mackin takes on one of the most American of professions—the U.S. military—in the story of an ill-fated Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan; and Curtis Sittenfeld narrates the sometimes heartless ambition of a group of grad students vying for the same fellowship. In memoir: Philip Roth looks at how the Newark of his youth formed his identity as a person and as a writer, and Toni Morrison remembers her first job, cleaning the house of a wealthy woman, when she was ten, and the lessons that the job, and her father, taught her. In these and other pieces—by Jennifer Egan, Richard Ford, and Akhil Sharma—we learn that work is about much more than bringing home a living wage. It guides who we are, how we see ourselves and others, and who we become.

—Deborah Treisman, fiction editor

A Reporter at Large|June 5 & 12, 2017


The Addicts Next Door

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country. Locals are fighting to save their neighbors—and their towns—from destruction.

By Margaret Talbot

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