Excerpt from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Scorched Earth

by David L. Robbins

Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2003, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


In July the heat and river humidity bear down on the town, pasting the odor to the ground day and night regardless of breeze. Clare is thirty-six weeks pregnant, so she has transferred from her forklift in the warehouse stacking giant rolls of bleached paperboard. She is in the office handling paperwork, sidling up to desktops and cabinets as best she can. She worries about the smelly air her baby is getting through her umbilicus.

Inside the plant, the Number 3 machine is down. Number 3 is longer than a city block. While it is down, mechanics and maintenance workers swarm over it. Elijah climbs a ladder at the wet end where virgin craft pulp is dumped into the machine's maw. Brown paper mud splats onto a wire screen and is swept through the machine's heat and pressure and rollers, forging a three-ply paperboard at the dry end 150 yards away where men wait for it with blades and pneumatic lifts. Elijah climbs with his tools into the spot called Hell. The metal ladder he mounts is slick with the congealed scum of pulp fibers and steam. Brown dregs hang from the rungs. One lightbulb glows, silhouetting the bits floating on the steam. Elijah hunkers low to fit under the beams and pipes, also ugly with dangling pulp drool. He squats beside a massive shaft and unhinges the coupling to inspect the cogs. He spills kerosene over the bearings to degrease them, then adds fresh grease. In July in this spot in the mill, you cannot wipe the sweat from your brows fast enough. Elijah's drips fall on the bearings under his slippery, glimmering fingers.

When he is finished and has cleaned his tools in the shop, his foreman approaches.

"Elijah.”

Elijah looks up. He says nothing.

"There's a meeting this afternoon at three o'clock at the chip-yard trailer. I want you to go to it.”

"I'm on ‘til four.”

"That's all right. I need you to go.”

"Why?”

Elijah pours kerosene over his hands to dig the grease from his nails with a rag.

"They're forming a Diversity Committee. This is the first meeting.”

Elijah draws in his lips.

The foreman leans his backside against the counter. He lifts a hand to help conjure the point he wants to make.

"What, with you being married to Clare and all," he says, "I figured, well . . .”

The foreman brings his hand down on Elijah's damp back.

". . . you know, you might could shed some light, is all.”

Elijah blinks at his hands and makes no answer. The foreman springs away from the counter. He says over his shoulder, "We all got to get along.”

At three o'clock, Clare is one of the twenty-five at the meeting. Elijah enters the trailer. She drops her jaw comically at him in mock surprise. She draws from him a head shake. He does not sit beside her.

Men and women, black and white, two Asians and one Hispanic, from departments across the mill sit in four rows of folding chairs. Coffee and doughnuts are on a card table. Most of the people from the machine floor and the wood yard still wear their hard hats and safety glasses. The few office workers fidget in their seats, especially the heavy women from customer service and the suited men from management. Clare watches Elijah, who has knit his hands in his lap and lowered his head. He has removed his green hard hat and safety glasses and sits gathered to himself.

Excerpted from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins. Copyright 2002 by David L. Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...
  • Book Jacket: This Blessed Earth
    This Blessed Earth
    by Ted Genoways
    For the Hammonds, a farming family in Nebraska, the 2014 harvest season started with a perfect storm...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

"A powerful, provocative debut ... Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental." - Kirkus, starred review

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee

    A moving exploration of growing up and growing old, and the ties that bind parents and children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.