The good news for all of us in North Carolina is that the unemployment rate is declining and the increase in economic activity is opening up new jobs to replace some of those we lost during the recession.
The bad news is that some North Carolinians are never going to recover from the disruption the financial crisis caused their career paths.
How do we measure that impact? How do we understand the turmoil and strain in each individual’s situation? What are these folks doing now? How did the sudden change in their lifestyles affect the rest of their lives? Have some things been lost forever?
I have heard writers say that they can sometimes tell the truth about a situation better in fiction than with facts and figures.
Elon University writing teacher Drew Perry’s new novel, Kids These Days, tackles this task. At the same time, it tells a story that is both funny and poignant.
The book’s central character, Walter, has a stable, remunerative job in the mortgage brokerage business in Charlotte until his wife Alice pushes him into having a child that he was not sure he really wanted yet. Once she becomes pregnant, the recession hits and Walter is downsized out of his job.
His only option opens up through his wife’s sister’s husband, Mid Middleton, who owns a variety of small businesses on the east coast of Florida near St. Augustine.
Mid’s formula is to buy in to businesses that have potential to grow, help the managers, but let them run the show, only checking on them from time to time to let them know he is interested and watching.
Walter and Alice leave Charlotte and move to a condo near Mid’s home. Alice’s great aunt owned the condo until her recent death. So the couple can live there for free while they wait for the baby to come.
Walter learns that Mid’s businesses include part ownership in a high-end real estate development, in which his luxury home is the only completed house. There is also a lower-end real estate project aimed at visiting fishermen. He also owns Island Pizza, sea kayak rentals, umbrella shops, and is opening Twice-the-Ice, a stand-alone automatic ice dispenser that, for the same price you would pay at a convenience store, gives you two times as much ice.
The first big hint that Mid’s business empire might be built on swampy land is a police raid on Island Pizza, and Mid’s arrest is a result of a marijuana distribution operation being run there. Mid says he knows nothing about it.
Doubtful. Then the hints become headlines, as two sets of law enforcement teams begin to follow Mid. One set persuades him to co-operate in bringing his colleagues to justice.
Before Mid’s business world collapses, Walter and Alice experience the falling apart of Mid’s family. His 15-year-old daughter, Olivia, has re-named herself Delton, taken up with an older man, gotten a tattoo, and finally moved in with Walter and Alice because she no longer fits in her own family.
Mid is remorseful, at least a little bit, as he tells Walter, “I had something else pictured. Something calmer. Fewer police, fewer wayward children, you know?”
Meanwhile, having watched Delton in action, Walter has to wonder whether he and Alice can possibly manage the growing-up challenges of the daughter in Alice’s womb.
Kids These Days is an entertaining read. Perfect, if only it had not made this reader worry about how close to the truth it is in shining a light on the desperate lives of young people torn apart by our recent economic unpleasantness.