The Garbage Brothers

The teenage years are traumatic as individuals make their confused way from adolescence into adulthood. It is a time of fumbling around trying to make sense of oneself and finding a pathway through life, while also having to learn that most critical of skills: adulting. Paul Neville perfectly captures the essence of this process in his coming-of-age novel The Garbage Brothers.

It’s 1969 and the world is a simpler place, without cellphones, Internet, or social media. Instead, life is lived in person. Jesse Wheeler is a seventeen-year-old high-school graduate going nowhere quickly. He lives in the aptly named small Midwestern town of Freedom, which he is finding out he has very little of. It’s one of those old Midwestern towns that exist just outside the suburban limits. The crossroad’s heartbeat consists of ramshackle establishments such as the Greasy Wrench Truck Stop and Café, and Gary’s Grab and Go Market.

Jesse’s father recently died, and his mother to plans to move to Indianapolis, leaving Jesse to fend for himself. Jesse spent most of his life being the new kid at school as Jesse’s father moved the family every year. Devoid of any substantial peer relationships, a grade point average in the lowest quartile, a mailbox full of college rejections, and no place to live by the end of summer, Jesse’s life is looking like a full garbage can. Fortune smiles on him though when he secures a part-time job as a helper at a local rundown garbage collection service.

It’s garbage collecting before it became “waste management,” servicing suburban homes by pulling cans from side yards and dumping the contents into the back of the truck. His co-workers are a motley collection of ex-cons and down and outers with odd quirks and barely contained vicious streaks. The drivers push Jesse to his limits and begin to give him grudging respect as he takes what they dish out and proves himself capable of the work. However, events soon take a turn for the worse and the crew makes a series of poor choices. As summer comes to an end, Jesse and the crew must deal with the consequences of their actions.

Neville does a masterful job of setting the novel’s time and place. The Midwest of the 1960s permeates the book with locales such as the greasy spoon where the crew gathers for breakfast and the dive bar populated by working men and a biker gang. Telling the tale through the eyes of Jesse, who is a sympathetic character, pulls the reader into the narrative. The Garbage Brothers is a tightly woven tale that leaves the reader yearning for a sequel.