Yesterday, I got the first book in my big Amazon order of used books. The first to arrive was Paul Clemens’ Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (2011). Clemens previously wrote the terrific Made in Detroit, about his experiences as a white person growing up in The Motor City. Punching Out is also nonfiction about Detroit, so my hopes were high.
Unfortunately, as tends to happen with high hopes, I feel let down. After reading the first 100 pages, I can’t give Punching Out more than a 4 out of 10. The idea is terrific – back in 2006 Clemens found out that the Budd stamping plant (founded 1919) was closing. A union representative helped him gain access to the plant on the sly and Clemens reported on what he saw.
But the execution just isn’t there – at least not in the first 100 pages. On pages 14-15 Clemens alludes to the fact that he had trouble finding the story that he wanted to tell in Budd’s closing. Indeed, too often, Clemens digresses into unrewarding tangents.
For instance, he recounts the history of Budd in numbing detail. (If Clemens had used family histories of the many 2nd- and 3rd-generation workers on the Budd payroll, the material would have been much better). Also, Clemens includes excruciating detail on the manufacturing processes at Budd. Sometimes you feel as though you are reading the operating manuals for the machines.
There’s enough good in the book to keep me from quitting it. (I think). The stories of the plant’s workers are terrific. These are the hardworking people often described as the backbone of the U.S. Also, Clemens shines a light into an unknown corner of the economy when he describes the industry that has emerged to deal with Budd’s unwanted assets. Last, as with Made in Detroit, Clemens’ knowledge of (and ambivalent affection for) Detroit bring it to life.
But after 100 pages of Punching Out, I’m let down.