Families On the Faultline

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Lillian Rubin calls them the “invisible Americans,” the working class who have been overlooked in what she describes as the fascination with the rich inspired by the Reagan/Bush years. Although based on sound research methods, FAMILIES ON THE FAULTLINE is not a dry compilation of facts and figures. Instead of generating an abstraction of the working class, Rubin humanizes them by focusing on what a small number of families—representing the major racial groups in the United States—thinks about such things as morality, the economy, and ethnicity.

Rubin dramatizes her analysis by liberally quoting those she interviewed, thus making their anxiety, anger, and anguish concretely real. Although it may be common knowledge and common sense that working-class men are torn by the economic necessity of their wives having to take a job and that working-class women are angry that their husbands are still caught in the old gender-specific expectations, these clashes becomes strikingly genuine when supported by sound statistics and echoed by real people.

Perhaps the most significant and heart-wrenching phenomena that the working-class has had to deal with in the last twenty years is the increasing pressures of race and the rise of ethnicity. On the one hand, Rubin points out that if she were to close her eyes while interviewing these people, she would hear the same problems voiced by all races; On the other hand, there is much bitterness among whites at the recent “privilege” assigned to ethnicity—so much so that many are scrambling to establish their own Euro-American ethnicity.

No one can afford to ignore the implications of Rubin’s study, for she focuses on how the heartland feels about the most difficult problems of modern times.