For those of us living in an age of high unemployment, foreclosures, and diminished expectations, suburban life in 1960s California seems like a distant dream. Working-class men, their fingers worn by honest labor, witnessed the invention of comforts designed to take the hurt off with a beer after a long day: frozen food, washer/dryer combos, and a square of unfenced grass called a lawn. Their sons dragged the perfumed streets, discovering James Brown and trying their damnedest to work less than their fathers and avoid the draft. Mothers experimented with neon-yellow cake mix and fresh asparagus year-round. It was a time even the new home movie camera couldn’t capture: the silent hope of better things to come and the fleeting good fortune of mid-century.
With the sharp wit of a master storyteller, Fred Setterberg chronicles his childhood in the postwar Eden of Jefferson Manor, a blue-collar suburb of Oakland. Like a Bay Area Garrison Keillor or Bill Bryson, Setterberg reveals the quirks of his family and neighbors with nuance and care. Each chapter propels him toward adulthood while poignantly exploring class, masculinity, and modern life amidst the intoxicating abundance of a new California. In advance of this book’s publication, sections of Lunch Bucket Paradise have won prizes from The Florida Review, Literal Latte, and Solstice Literary Magazine.
Fred’s coming-of-age casts a bittersweet pall on today’s world in light of the good life far out of reach for working-class families today. Reading his words, we realize the true meaning of the phrase “lunch bucket paradise”: it symbolizes an era of prosperity for blue-collar Americans that may never come again.
Hear Fred Setterberg discuss his “true-life novel” and read an excerpt at the Pleasanton Library, near where he grew up: