Spindle City by Jotham Burrello

 This story brings a historical background of a city once prospering from textile mills and now facing union strikes. But for most of the part this is a moving story of a father, who after losing his wife, struggles to keep his family together.

Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1911 is celebrating one hundred years of being America’s “largest cotton manufacturing city in the country.” The owners are very proud of it and pretty sure that the city will have another centennial celebration.

Joseph Bartlett is one of the owners, which happened by accident. He sympathizes with labor, which doesn’t put him in a good position with other owners. Now, his wife passes away and at the same time his older son assaults a young woman. And later, he notices his younger son being diverted in the wrong direction by his friend’s daughter.

On a sunny August day, Sarah Strong, a suffragist, approaches Joseph as he understands, unlike his peers, that the hardships at the mills don’t need to be endured. He knows her name well. At the age of seventeen, her mother dies working at textile mill. Sarah uses her mother’s savings to go to college. Once with degree, her career options are very limited. Upon learning about impending strike, this puts her on a path “to labor terrorism” as seen by some, “depending on your point of view.” She is the Robin Hood of union organizing for others.

She convinces him to show him something first before presenting her proposal to him. She takes him to the worst of the worst mill’s boardinghouses and tenements routinely sited with health violations. He is enlightened that the abuse doesn’t stop with mill’s conditions; it extends to young girls being abused by their bosses. “When they announce they’re pregnant, they get dumped, and blackballed.” She presents her proposal and asks him to open his books. This way putting pressure on others. Having two sets of books is a common practice, one with true numbers, the other for officials to show there is not enough profit to pay higher wages. She wants him to improve the conditions of all workers, thus giving him legacy.

This was the moment I was waiting for in this story such character as Sarah Strong. She is a phenomenal character giving the story the richness of historical background I wanted to see. And I kept waiting and waiting for her appearance again, but it never came.

Then the story goes back in time, revealing Joseph’s career’s climb and connecting him with the names presented at the beginning of the story. Which certainly is very engaging.

This story is mostly concentrated on Joseph and his two sons. It is a touching portrayal of a human being, a father, who makes his share of mistakes. He acknowledges that he never had the patience to sit with the boys and look for example what Hollister was drawing, which later turned out to be a talent for military mapping. He provided well for his sons, but at the same time didn’t want them to feel privileged. Thus, he never hired nannies or a butler. He wanted them to be well-grounded and humble as he himself came from humble beginnings. And hoped that one day, one of them would take over the family business.

The story is vividly presented, you can feel what the father and each son go through, their pain and humiliation.

Even though, the story didn’t bring the historical background I was looking for, I still have to give credit for how well this story is crafted.

Release date: 21 July 2020

Source: Blackstone Publishing