Set for the most part in the desolate plains and dusty small towns of eastern Nebraska, The Works of Love traces the history of a naive man and his difficulties in feeling at home with his fellow-man.
Orphaned at an early age, Will Brady has no option but to take the world as he finds it. His lack of culture and education indicate that he has no means of understanding the world. He has, however, no inclination to understand it. He gets to know his limitations and frustrations as an intermittent series of pangs occasioned by nocturnal glimpses of the lights on railroad semaphores and by a desire for female companionship. His formative experiences of life and love are obtained in his sojourn in Calloway, Nebraska, where he works at the Merchant’s Hotel and on his nights off visits Opal Mason, a lonesome whore.
As a result of one of these visits, Will’s life becomes more complicated. Feeling that he should be married and having Opal reject him, he finds himself associated with one of her young colleagues, Mickey Ahearne. Nothing comes immediately of this association. Mickey is pregnant and already engaged; the second time Will sees her, she is leaving town with her fiance. The complication arises when Will receives, by rail, a picnic basket containing an infant and a note saying, “My name is Willy Brady.” Yet, strange as this event is, neither Will nor anyone else in Calloway thinks very much about it.
This episode establishes the manner in which all further incidents in the novel are perceived by the characters. Will is impressed by the way T. P. Luckett, a frequent guest at the Merchant’s Hotel, extols the virtues of Nebraska as a land of opportunity. He also falls for Luckett’s groundless...
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