Peachy the Magazine October November 2014 - Page 117

BOOKS wrote to his infant namesake that very night, just as the floodwaters mounted and threatened to destroy the very legacy he wished to bestow upon his grandson. Decades later, when family loyalties shifted and JBIII was stripped of his birthright and left Bassett for good, locals said that the flooding of the town the night of his birth was a prescient sign that the heir would be pushed out of Bassett, as surely as if the infant had been caught in the frigid rapids of the Smith River that stormy Depression-era night. The flood scene described above is recounted in Beth Macy’s enthralling new book, Factory Man, and the storm might be considered, in literary parlance, an example of pathetic fallacy, a term coined by John Ruskin to describe the manner in which writers attribute human qualities to inanimate objects of nature in order to give atmospheric nuance to their works. Surely Macy must be employing this and sundry other literary devices, for how else could she craft a tale so fanciful? And yet her book is a biography not a novel, and is built upon facts, not metaphors. Factory Man is the product of years of painstaking research, and the flood, as well as the hurricane and the manifold infernos which are also described in the book, were not conjured by the author to heighten the tableau she presents. Rather incredibly, they are events which actually occurred and defined the life of John D. Bassett III. Nor did the author contrive the stranger-than-fiction tales of feudal infighting, dynastic power struggles, miscegenation, grave-robbing, corporate incest, Machiavellian trade maneuvers, Chinese robber barons and K Street political intrigue which are relayed in the book. Macy takes the fodder of JBIII’s life and weaves a tale that is positively Shakespearean in its sheer drama. The story stretches from the foothills of Appalachia to burgeoning factories in rural China, from congressional back rooms to ex-pat enclaves in Indonesia. It spans a long and steady century of ascension, as Bassett Furniture Industries became the largest manufacturer of wood furniture in the world. And it relays how quickly the “waltz of cheap labor” lured Bassett and almost all other furniture manufacturers to sign on to the “dance card” of the Chinese, shuttering their domestic plants, abandoning manufacturing and becoming importers and retailers. Left in their wake as wallflowers were legions of unemployed, unskilled factory workers and entire company towns reeling in desperation. OCTOBER NOVEMBER 2014 115