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Eric Giroux
Ring On Deli
Eric Giroux, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

A novel about supermarkets and democracy.

Brothers Ray and Patrick Markham live in Pennacook, Massachusetts, a despairing former mill town plagued by feral boars. It’s the type of place where streets are named for scoundrel governors and lesser Monopoly properties, where even Dr. Chong, the high-school principal, can’t bear to mingle with the locals in her free time.

Ray serves as Patrick’s legal guardian. He spends his days on the Bounty Bag deli line, making a mean meatball sandwich, critiquing Muscles Carbonara’s obscenely suggestive deal flyers, and studiously ducking any thought of his future. But Ray’s tick-like comfort in the static here and now is wildly disrupted when Patrick runs away and a greedy board of directors fires Angie Martini, Bounty Bag’s great-hearted CEO, turning Bounty Bag upside down with worker protests.

Dr. Chong has troubles of her own. She’s on a longshot campaign for a tax-cap override to fund a less-carcinogenic building for Andrew Johnson Memorial High School. But as Election Day nears, the meltdown at Bounty Bag threatens to gut her already shoestring tax base.

Patrick, meanwhile, has fallen into a scam targeting Ray’s own deli. Things look bleak—until he lucks into the classroom of the dying Mr. Grant, whose demanding history class gets him thinking more deeply, about Pennacook, Bounty Bag, and his own past and future.

Giroux’s somewhat autobiographical debut novel draws on the Market Basket protests of 2014 as he highlights the fractured relationship between two brothers. Ray Markham was 18 when his parents died in a car accident. He abandoned his college plans to care for his 11-year-old brother Patrick and took a job as a deli clerk at the Bounty Bag grocery store in Pennacook, Mass., a recession-hit town with a wild boar problem. In the five years since, Ray has risen in the ranks at Bounty Bag, while Patrick has become a rebellious teenager. Ray weathers the upheaval of workers planning a walk-out, and Patrick’s academic struggles are offset by his excellence in the state-required local history class. As Patrick’s high school principal anticipates an upcoming referendum vote on raising the tax cap to provide funding for a new school and tries to find her nephew a job, Patrick submits a college application for Ray, opening up the possibility of a brighter future for both of them.

Giroux’s witty writing enhances the cast of quirky characters, including deli manager Toothless Mary and a debauched coworker known as the Alfredo. He draws on his experience working in a deli to detail the inner workings of a grocery store and the hierarchy among the employees, and his work as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adds insight to his depiction of Bounty Bag management’s strategic attempts to retain their positions.

The fast-paced narrative includes witty descriptions of the town of Pennacook (“a kind of Brigadoon with malaise”) and its residents’ relationships and foibles. The element of humor is a welcome counterpoint to a character’s tragic death and Patrick’s often self-destructive behavior. With a steady authorial hand and dryly funny narration, Giroux crafts a memorable setting for this poignant story of people awkwardly trying to improve their ordinary lives.

Takeaway: This dryly funny, engaging novel will appeal to fans of small-town stories full of quirky characters.

Great for fans of Emma Straub’s All Adults Here, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B-

Quirky characters take a stand against a supermarket in Giroux’s nimble debut. Pennacook, a rundown Massachusetts town home to wandering feral boars, barely survived the Great Recession. In 2013, Pennacook’s residents (called Pennies) depend primarily on the town’s largest employer, Bounty Bag supermarket. Working in the store’s deli is 23-year-old Ray Markham, the legal guardian of his 16-year-old brother Patrick since their parents died six years earlier. Ray juggles Patrick’s teen angst and alcohol abuse, and is heartbroken to learn his brother is involved in local thug Muscles Carbonara’s smuggling operation. After Bounty Bag’s board of directors fires beloved CEO Angie Martini, the store’s employees strike, and Ray must decide if he will join them or try to keep the store open. Meanwhile, high school principal Dr. Chong and Selectman Archie Simmons need Bounty Bag to remain a going concern in order to achieve their plans of funneling taxpayer money into building a new high school, and the boars’ activity escalates from nuisance to full-scale destruction. Readers will enjoy Giroux’s colorful descriptions of the struggling town, where the Pennies spout literary references (“Don’t make good the enemy of perfect,” Ray’s manager tells him) and get by on pure gumption. This author has talent to burn. (Self-published)