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Another man's treasure

Drug money stashed in an old car upsets the delicate class system of the junkyard

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With my editors on vacation, I can slip this review of a trashy novel into the august pages of The Christian Science Monitor. But don't look for a chiseled cowboy towering over some buxom woman in a hoop skirt. "The Metal Shredders" is a trashy novel in the best sense: It takes place in a junkyard. And the taboos it breaks aren't sexual. (Unfortunately, there are no sexual taboos left in modern literature.) No, it dares to raise the only subject that still makes Americans uncomfortable: class.

Nancy Zafris introduces us to three generations of John Bonners who have rooted through scrap metal looking for value that others are too careless or proud to notice. The founder, whose hysterical funeral opens the novel, was the kind of man who would bring the yard to a halt when he spotted 60 cents of magnesium in a tangle of wires. In the world's most wasteful nation, he realized early that garbage is the ultimate growth industry. (For example, we toss out 133 square miles of recyclable tinfoil every day just to unwrap our Hershey's Kisses. How's that for a loving embrace of consumerism?)

John Bonner III – even the names are recycled in this family – was embarrassed by his late grandfather's frugality. He's also uncomfortable with the fact that success requires finding men willing to sort through dangerous garbage for long hours for very little money. And yet he knows that because of all this, he now sits on a lucrative business that allows him to leave the scrap yard every evening and retreat into suburban gentility.

The only problem is his conscience. "It's hard not to think of yourself as superior," the narrator observes, "when you work where he works with the people he works with."

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