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A Preppy's Meat-Plant Education

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STRAIGHT THROUGH THE NIGHT by Edward Allen, New York: Soho Press, 270 pp., $17.95

`ON worn tires, you feel close to the ground, and there is a jangling, wounded kind of weariness, that only people who did not finish college can feel.''

Books about young men meeting life head-on are a particular American type, and you can have them. But this is an exception. ``Straight Through the Night'' is enjoyable and riveting at the same time, smoothly written but flawed and asymmetrical as any really original creation must be.

Charles Deckle, prep school product, doesn't finish college. He finds himself working for his living in New York in the meat cutting district in lower Manhattan, where the restaurant owners buy. It's a frantic trade, conducted in a frenzy of narrow profits, amid razor-sharp knives, saws, and cleavers, and huge hanging carcasses. Men communicate at the top of their lungs, using the fricative lingua franca of working-class New York City. Survival in this world of shaky business credit and highly perishable goods depends on things no prep school ever taught.

He's on his own in a rough world that he never knew existed, which might as well be another planet. How he fares, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, is the heart of the book. He is working, real work, for the first time in his life, a life that now mercilessly depends on work. His co-workers and bosses are all from the great uneducated, and for Charles Deckle, unknown, blue-collar class.

They cut meat; they debone it; they slaughter and skin animals; they do the violent bloodstained things that an education can prevent you from ever having to think about. Sometimes he sees his co-workers as noble laborers, providing sustenance for the race; other times he sees them as animals cutting up other animals in a grim commercial danse macabre. He has additional experiences, but it is his work that runs his life, and that's a measure of the accuracy of this book.

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