When Raymond Goodwin started work at a Michigan sawmill in 1979, the glory days of lumbering were long gone. But the industry still had a faded glow that, for a while, held him there. In Sawdusted, Goodwin wipes the dust off his memories of the rundown, non-union mill where he toiled for twenty months as a two-time college dropout. Spare, evocative character sketches bring to life the personalities of his fellow millworkers—their raucous pranks, ribbing, complaints about wages and weather, macho posturing, failed romances, and fantasies of escape.
The result is a mostly funny, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of life in the lumbering industry a century after its heyday. Amidst the intermittent anger and resignation of poorly paid lumbermen in the Great Lakes hinterlands, Goodwin reveals moments of vulnerability, generosity, and pride in craftsmanship. It is a world familiar, in its basic outlines, to anyone who has ever done manual labor.
At the heart of the book is a coming-of-age story about Goodwin’s relationship with his older brother Randy—a heavy drinker, chain smoker, and expert sawyer. Gruff but kind, Randy tutors Raymond in the ways of the blue-collar world even as he struggles with the demons that mask his own melancholy.