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A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm – A Book You Mostly Won’t Know How to Put Down

December 20, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm (2019) French title: La vie en chantier. Translated by Juliane Nivelt.

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Taz and Marnie are in their later twenties and live in Missoula, Montana. They’re married, deeply in love, settling in life. Taz works as a cabinetmaker for a contractor, Marko. Money is tight but they’re happy, enjoying the nature around them, spending time with friends and renovating the old house they bought, room by room. When Marnie announces that she’s pregnant, they couldn’t be happier to have a baby, become parents and start this new chapter of their life.

Then the unthinkable happens: Marnie dies in childbirth. And from one day to the other, Taz finds himself without his soulmate and with a newborn little girl.

The first chapters of the book show us the young couple preparing for their baby’s arrival. They decorate her room, Taz builds her a bed. They rush into finishing other rooms as well, to be as ready as possible. They enjoy their last picnics and swimming in the river days at two, or so they think. They love camping and flyfishing and upon Marnie’s insistance, their baby girl’s name will be Midge.

And then, the horror on Day Zero. Midge is born and Marnie dies.

From then on, we follow Taz through his days as he struggles to get up, to take care of his baby, to go back to work. Grief takes him to an inner place where the echoes of the world barely come to him. He’s a living robot, lost in his bubble of silence. His parents emigrated to in New Zealand and won’t come back to help him. Marnie’s mother comes to help, crushed by her own grief but thinking of her grand-daughter. His best friend Rudy takes care of him and the community rallies around Taz. His freezer is filled with casseroles, he gets stocks of diapers and baby formula. Clients add a nice tip to his checks. His friends make sure he doesn’t drown in sorrow.

His friends are there, pulling him out of his underwater tunnel, forcing him to resurface and take a breath. Rudy helps him find a babysitter for Midge and that’s how Elmo enters into Taz’s and Midge’s life.

Each chapter is named after the day after Taz’s personal ground zero and Pete Fromm takes us until Day Five Hundred and Nine to Day One of a new life. The title A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do refers to parenthood and Taz is distraught and helpless. How can he raise Midge on his own? Thankfully grandma Lauren visits from time to time, Elmo goes beyond her babysitting duties, Rudy has his back and his employer Marko is understanding.

Fromm makes grief palpable and real for the reader. There’s no pathos, no long internal monologues dissecting Taz’s feelings. He shows us Taz’s life in his long tunnel to the beginning of recovery. Marnie’s with him at all times, he mentally seeks her advice. He takes Midge to their favorite places by the river and tells her stories about her mom. Sorrow grips him at the throat at the oddest moments, because a tiny detail triggers a memory of his former life with Marnie.

A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do is sad but hopeful. It’s the opposite of grandiloquent pain you’d find in other kinds of literature. It’s the pain of ordinary people who brutally lose a loved one.

Pete Fromm finds the right words to make us feel Taz’s pain. There’s no direct description of it but his picture of Taz’s quotidian is an oblique way to show the reader how he feels. How he’s slowly winning the battle against despair. Step by step. How people around him are there along the way, catching him when he stumbles from the heavy pain that he carries with him at all times. How life and hope win, in the end.

I wish I had quotes to share but I read it in French. The French title, La vie en chantier, is spot-on. It means Life as a Work in Progress and Life as a Job Site at the same time. Taz’s life is under construction and he works in construction too. The way he slowly, thoughtfully crafts wood is a metaphor of how he slowly rebuilds his life. Usually, in that case, I download a sample from the American Kindle store or use the “Look Inside” function on Amazon to find a quote from the first pages. But there is no such thing for this book, I suppose that it’s not bankable enough. That’s a shame. Surely the disastrous English covers got in the way of promoting this sensitive novel.  Look at them! They are so stupidly Women Fiction (A term I despise) that they betray the book. 

Well. Taz felt true-to-life to me and will stay with me for a long time because he’s one of us and all of us at the same time. I would love to meet the author who wrote such a beautiful and universal piece of literature.

A book I very very highly recommend.

  1. December 20, 2020 at 10:18 am

    It sounds fab… have looked it up on Amazon but sadly not available in Kindle (yet?)


    • December 20, 2020 at 10:24 am

      I KNOW!!! It’s such a shame. How can this book not be available in ebook?! It’s a huge success here in France, as are a lot of books published by Gallmeister.
      They even published The Dynamiters by Benjamin Whitmer, a book that is only available in French translation. He doesn’t even have a publisher in the US anymore. The French press is ecstatic about his last novel, and he’s not even published in his own country!
      If you want to read excellent American literature, check out Gallmeister’s website https://www.gallmeister.fr/ They have a lot of good references.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. December 20, 2020 at 10:59 am

    It’s a shame it isn’t available, it sounds interesting..


  3. December 20, 2020 at 11:47 am

    That cover on the left is just gross. What does it have to do with a man bringing up a baby? I won’t say, no trout? but I thought it, sorry. I had a friend at uni whose sister died in childbirth while working in Fiji. It’s just so shocking these days. Thank you for explaining the French title. I often wonder when it looks different to the English one.


    • December 20, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      That’s exactly what I thought.
      Yes, trout! 🙂 The baby’s name is Midge!

      The exact translation of the English title would have been weird in French. I understand why they changed it and I think that they came up with a good one. It encompasses Taz’s love for his job and how his life is in shambles and needs a rebuilt.


  4. December 20, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    It’s unfortunate that writers like Pete Fromm aren’t as well known as they should be here and I wonder if part of the problem is that the big publishing companies are NY-based and don’t seem to know what to do with books like this if they do publish them. If a smaller regional publisher picks them up, they don’t have the necessary marketing power.


    • December 20, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      This book deserves to be better known, that’s for sure. I don’t understand why the English edition is not available in ebook. Isn’t that the best way to reach out to Anglophone readers all over the world? Australia, India, Britain. The production costs of an ebook must be lower than the ones of a paper one, as the logistic is easier.
      He’s published by Counterpoint, a publisher I’ve never heard of but I’m far from being a specialist of the American publishing industry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 21, 2020 at 3:14 pm

        I don’t understand it either. Is it the publisher’s decision or the author’s, in this case? From what I can tell it looks like he’s been published by several different companies over the years. Counterpoint is a good, smallish publisher.


        • December 21, 2020 at 8:18 pm

          I don’t know how the publishing industry works and who decides if a book gets into ebooks or not. The writer should have the right to veto the cover of their book, some are plain ugly and a lot are not faithful to the book.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. December 20, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    It sounds heartbreaking. And I see exactly what you mean about the English covers – they would put me off straight away, and I’m not convinced by the English title either.


    • December 20, 2020 at 5:30 pm

      It’s heartbraking but still hopeful.
      These covers are awful, as they often are.
      The title of the book comes from a quote from American Wedding by Joe Millar.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Vishy
    December 20, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Beautiful review, Emma! I think I’ll cry when I read this book. But I want to read it. Will add this to my list. How did you discover this book? Through Gallmeister? I haven’t heard of Pete Fromm before.


    • December 20, 2020 at 9:15 pm

      I think you’d like it, Vishy. Yes, I discovered Pete Fromm through Gallmeister and I saw an interview on the French TV in the literature talk show.


      • Vishy
        December 20, 2020 at 11:40 pm

        Glad to know that, Emma. Nice to know that Pete Fromm is acclaimed in France. I love Gallmeister more and more everyday, for showcasing wonderful writers. I just checked and I could find Pete Fromm’s book in Amazon. There is no Kindle edition as you have said. Only the paperback and hardback are there. Will try to get it soon. Thanks for gushing about it ☺️


        • December 21, 2020 at 8:17 pm

          Gallmeister sure has a great list of writers in their catalogue. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about this one by Pete Fromm.


  7. December 24, 2020 at 7:44 am

    Never heard of Pete Fromm either. Initially I thought I did, mixing him up with Peter Stamm… Something in the non-emotional style maybe. Don’t think I’ll give this one a shot though; sounded a bit flat to me with so much support around him and those covers surely don’t help 🙂


    • December 25, 2020 at 10:09 pm

      I’ve read Peter Stamm too and they’re nothing alike.

      This one is really really good. The simplicity of the language shows Taz’s despair and his living into a tunnel. Even his friends and family struggle to pull him out of it because he’s so stricken by grief. It’s a compelling story.


  8. January 9, 2021 at 4:05 pm

    I love the sound of this one, Emma. He’s a new writer to me too, so I’m looking forward to trying it!


    • January 9, 2021 at 9:33 pm

      It’s a wonderful book and a good book to read for a writer, I think. Pete Fromm makes you feel Taz’s pain deeply and he never directly talks about it, dissects it or analyzes it. He uses simple words and Taz’s pain becomes palpable.


  1. January 2, 2021 at 9:02 am
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