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Publisher's Summary

"Remarkable...this is the book that Hillbilly Elegy should have been." (Kirkus Reviews)

A vivid window into the world of working-class men set during the Bakken fracking boom in North Dakota.

Like thousands of restless men left unmoored in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, Michael Patrick Smith arrived in the fracking boomtown of Williston, North Dakota, five years later homeless, unemployed, and desperate for a job. Renting a mattress on a dirty flophouse floor, he slept boot to beard with migrant men who came from all across America and as far away as Jamaica, Africa, and the Philippines. They ate together, drank together, argued like crows, and searched for jobs they couldn't get back home. Smith's goal was to find the hardest work he could do - to find out if he could do it. He hired on in the oil patch where he toiled 14-hour shifts from summer's 100-degree dog days to deep into winter's bracing whiteouts, all the while wrestling with the demons of a turbulent past, his broken relationships with women, and the haunted memories of a family riven by violence.

The Good Hand is a saga of fear, danger, exhaustion, suffering, loneliness, and grit that explores the struggles of America's marginalized boomtown workers - the rough-hewn, castoff, seemingly disposable men who do an indispensable job that few would exalt: oil field hands who, in the age of climate change, put the gas in our tanks and the food in our homes. Smith, who had pursued theater and played guitar in New York, observes this world with a critical eye; yet he comes to love his coworkers, forming close bonds with Huck, a goofy giant of a young man whose lead foot and quick fists get him into trouble with the law, and The Wildebeest, a foul-mouthed, dip-spitting truck driver who torments him but also trains him up and helps Smith "make a hand".

The Good Hand is ultimately a book about transformation - a classic American story of one man's attempt to burn himself clean through hard work, to reconcile himself to himself, to find community, and to become whole.

This audiobook edition includes an original score and seven songs performed by The Good Hand. 

©2021 Michael Patrick F. Smith (P)2021 Penguin Audio

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What listeners say about The Good Hand

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  • Overall
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A terrific memoir read by its captivating author

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a couple months, and my excitement ramped up when I saw the beautiful spread, feature, and review in The New York Times in early 2021.

Michael Patrick F Smith is a Maryland treasure who takes intricate and fascinating notes of his travels, work, and the gritty world around him. And we get to see what he sees in an immersive and evocative language. His original music brought me to his writing, and the familiar twang of his guitar here and there throughout the audiobook remind me of sitting in a dark bar, hearing his weirdly cheerful guttural Americana and gnarly voice for the very first time.

Such a terrific read/listen whether or not you know one thing about the oil industry coming in.

6 people found this helpful

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Best Memoir in a Decade!

Easily one of my favorite memoirs of the last decade. By turns funny, sweet, terrifying, and head-scratchingly weird, it is ALWAYS interesting. I listened to this one on Audible and the author (who I am now a little in love with, but just a little) read it himself. He peppers the reading with the sweet sounds of his guitar and even sings the listener a song or two. I think I would have loved it if I had read it too, but hearing him, was a gift. Magic Mike and his band of merry buddies will take you with him on an adventure that you really don't want to miss. Amazing storytelling and some really good food for thought too. I laughed a lot and a cried a little too. Totally great.

5 people found this helpful

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A Great Listen, Excellent Storytelling

This is an excellent book, weaving together the author’s own story, the oil industry, history, climate change and a wide cast of characters both funny and tragic. Some chapters are reminiscent of a great Flannery O’Conner story. It is a special treat to listen to it read by the author. This would make a great TV series it is written so vividly.

4 people found this helpful

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way to go magic!

thanks for your honesty
can't wait to see what you do next!
this is a story that needs to be shared

3 people found this helpful

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I couldn’t stop listening, but I need sleep!

I’ve been trying to watch my own cursing so the first few minutes of the book took me back a little but I was drawn in and kept listening.

I had considered for one very brief moment of moving to North Dakota myself before I landed in Minnesota back in 2015. After listening to The Good Hand, I not only feel like I’ve lived in North Dakota during this time, I am also thankful I did not.

Thank you sharing your story.

Patti

3 people found this helpful

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“Yeah buddy”

Living in Montana, I got to hear the real stories from “Magic Mike” about the Boom. I remembered all of his co/workers through out the book. He did such a great job of describing and imitated them. The narration was excellent. I hope he gets to narrate other books plus write! Yeah buddy! Very tough up bringing.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent Memoir!

I have been working in the oil industry up in North Alaska for over twenty five years now and while listening to this book I felt that Michael was a coworker just having a conversation with me over a beer. He has captured all the dynamics of this type of lifestyle revealing all the emotions and feelings that go along with it such as humor, sorrow, fatigue, self doubt, self confidence, machoism and empathy. This is an excellent memoir I thoroughly enjoyed and could not get enough of!

1 person found this helpful

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I was sorry when it ended

I caught just part of an interview of the author on the radio show Marketplace and picked the book up on a whim. I was hooked immediately. Incredible storytelling by a guy with a lot to say. Ive recommended this book far and wide and am giving it as a gift to multiple recipients

1 person found this helpful

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An Authentic and Heartfelt Account of America

This book immerses the reader in a rich stew of anecdotes, tales, sad and funny, descriptions of people and places, bits and pieces of history, personal confession, and an examination of the modern economy as experienced by a struggling working class. It is all that and more.

It is essentially the story of one man’s experience in the boomtown of Williston, North Dakota during the wild days of the oil bonanza. It was very much like the Wild West of more than a century ago when people rushed to the places where gold and silver had been found. Among the people who rushed in were dreamers and schemers, but also many down-on-their-luck working men. Some came looking for a way to make money to survive or to provide for families they had left behind or lost long before. Among them are men with criminal records, addictions to alcohol and drugs, and mental scars left by childhood abuse.

The author has his own history of family trauma even though he comes from a very different part of the modern American landscape. He is a songwriter, actor and musician who has been living in Brooklyn. He understands the men he meets in North Dakota because they are the people he grew up with. He comes there with the sensitivity and the skills of an artist and he sets out to understand them, the booming oil industry that, like it or not, supplies us with transportation fuel, the plastics that are essential and ubiquitous in our world and the chemicals that are needed to produce food in abundance. Along the way he comes to a better understanding of himself and the sorrows of his own life.

This is not a book about the technical innovations that led to the Baaken Shale development or the fortunes of the oil and gas industry. If you are looking for political points about fracking this is not the book you want. The industry is seen as a vague entity in which men toil. They are in the belly of the beast doing dirty, difficult and often dangerous work for relatively good wages, getting it while they can and then—- well, there is little thought about what comes next because there might not be anything else. These are not people who can find a place in the digital economy. These are the laborers who are being left behind.

The audio version of this book is especially rich because you hear the voice of the author, whose acting experience provides a polished delivery and whose closeness to the material gives it an authenticity that no other narrator could possibly have. As a bonus he uses clips from some of his songs as breaks between some segments. The songs have the rough and raw quality that makes folk music so important as a reflexión of actual human experience. This story is best told by homemade music, not slickly produced commercial offerings from Nashville or Los Angeles. These songs provide the emotional soundtrack for a story that is our story as much as anyone’s because we are here, too, part of the fabric of a big, complex country, each of trying to find our way forward and not always very sure where it might take us.

1 person found this helpful

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Hands down, The Good Hand is a great listen

Few things can be said about the quality of this book that will do it justice. The reading performance, the original music played by the author, and the story being told would not let me stop playing it. I am not one for memoirs and I am not one for the expansion of the oil industry, but the way Mike shares the humanity of the people he meets in his work on the oil fields is touching and downright exciting! I never realized I wanted to know how rigs worked, and how beautiful that would be. A real sign of a big heart and an artist's touch. I was happy to go on his many errant adventures plus his own journey of transformation while I fell in love with a few guys and a stripper along the way. I highly recommend the audible version. Why not hear it straight from the author's mouth AND have some music. It is a whole experience. Must listen!

1 person found this helpful