The Metal Shredders

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year!

The Metal Shredders
by Nancy Zafris

BlueHen Books
320 pages, ISBN 0399149228
August 2002

An offbeat, wise and witty debut novel from a Flannery O'Connor Award winner, set in the unlikely world of metal shredding.

John Bonner is sure that any time now he will recover from the sting of his recent separation from his wife. And he's begun to wonder if he truly wants to spend the rest of his days running the family scrap metal business, an operation where his employees are likely to have made the very license plates they now shred. His sister, Octavia, has just returned to Ohio from Boston to nurture the pain of her own broken relationship, and she is more certain: following in the footsteps of their imperious father is a recipe for emotional disaster.

But then two of John's more eccentric workmen discover thousands of dollars stashed in the trunk of a car, the remains of a drug deal gone bad. What to do with this unexpected cash draws John and his sister into the lives of their new-found collaborators, sending them all on a surprising journey of hijinks and the heart.

In The Metal Shredders, Nancy Zafris offers up a refreshingly wise, offbeat and thoroughly convincing look at blue-collar America. Hers is a world rich in humor, steeped in closely held traditions, and filled with gently endearing, slightly crazed characters trying to discover just who they are. In the process they discover much about love, loyalty, family obligation, class and, yes, scrap.

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Read excerpt.


So you turn out like your parents, everyone knows that. But Octavia has this other theory, that in your twenties and early thirties you're given a respite. You get to fool yourself that you're somebody different. It's a way to store up energy to get you through the rest of your life when the bad news hits and you turn into the person you would most hate to become: Mom or Dad. Sometimes both.

Octavia's respite is about over. There's a change coming over her and she knows it's not good: she's about to turn into one of her parents. At 34, she is convinced she's on the cusp of DNA backstabbing. It's inevitable— why fight it. Why not make a choice right now, pick the mom or pick the dad, take the lesser of two evils and surrender to a compromise. She begins a list of her parents' good and bad qualities. She's up in her miniature house on stilts, head down, ignoring the panavision of scrap metal. She's trying not to hear, trying not to feel the Dolby Surround Sound of machine whine and metal agony.

Mom—bad Dad—bad
snob pretends not to be a snob
food obsession money obsession
money obsession likes to pretend he golfs
superficial too philosophical
doesn't listen thinks he knows everything
likes jewelry likes scrap metal
wears dresses too much OSU clothing
doesn't like her own friends doesn't have any real friends
talks too much or
  doesn't talk at all
talks too much or
  doesn't talk at all

Mom—good Dad—good
keeps in shape keeps in shape

The future looks bleak.

But it's not all navel gazing at her desk. She has spent some quality time trying to get this business straight. It's hard. It remains for good reason a big pile of junk to her. She can't get into it. It's not at all like sinking your teeth into a foreign language. That's Language, after all; it matters. This is scrap. Prepared steel versus alloyed steel— why? Who cares?

It's unhealthy knowledge. It's too much to learn. She can' t do it.

Dean's List at Wellesley, she reminds herself. Honor roll, Log of Distinction, whatever, she got it automatically, never gave it a second thought or even learned what it was called— good grades, she was a good grade machine, she spat them out like a shredder on auto pilot. A after shiny A. What's a ductile pipe compared to that?