Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions

Dispatches from the Working Class

J. R. Helton (Author)

Logo markA Liveright book


Weaving the brackish humor of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club with the empathy of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, J. R. Helton brings to life an obscured, all-too-often ignored slice of the American psyche in this unflinching memoir of blue-collar Texas.

In the 1980s, somewhere in Austin, Helton was young, married, and jobless. After a few strung-out years trying to make it as a writer, he was caught in a cycle of drunken, coked-up nights, crashing on friends’ couches and looking for money in the morning. Succumbing to the daunting reality of what it means to support both himself and a troubled marriage, he became a housepainter. He sold pumpkins on the side of the road, delivered firewood, ran a crew of illegal immigrants hauling railroad ties across the empty plains of Kansas, and then he painted even more.

Despair is transformed into resilience as Helton insightfully narrates his wayward years, enduring hateful employers and mind-numbing manual labor. Along the way, the people toiling beneath the saccharine veneer of wealth that was the Reagan years are brought to vivid life: the ambitious and the lazy, the potheads and the racists, as well as Vietnam vets too shaken to hold a paintbrush and deadbeat fathers straining to pay child support.

With intoxicating, blasé-faire sentiment, Helton shows that everyone—from the beauties at the rodeo to the lowest laborers—is tethered by a common desire to just pay the bills and balm the loneliness. A raw and moving account, Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions captures a microcosm of left-behind America that straddles a dangerous line between ruin and redemption.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • January 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-287-7
  • 5.9 × 8.6 in / 272 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions is Helton at his best, as he recalls trudging through the lower depths working a myriad of menial jobs. With an abundance of humor, sharp observation, and a terrific ear for dialogue, he makes the bleak and tragic subject matter something to be savored.” — Terry Zwigoff, director of Crumb, Ghost World, Bad Santa, and Art School Confidential

“Helton writes with an honest, gritty, straightforward style about ugly things and somehow manages to make them beautiful…A great book.” — Terry Zwigoff

“Both funny and sad, this book illuminates the hard work and unrelenting tenacity of people who scratch a living with manual labor.” — Jan Reid, author of Sins of the Younger Sons

“Somewhere between literary tinctures reminiscent of Charles Bukowski and Harvey Pekar, Helton conjures an intoxicating voice that mines mordant memories of abject and downtrodden moments to reveal hilarious, gobsmacking, and often haunting, epiphanies. When it doesn’t break your heart, this book might bust your gut from laughing.” — John Philip Santos

“J. R. Helton is my favorite contemporary American writer. He has a gift for writing well in plain language, and he can’t seem to help but write with total honesty. I eagerly devoured Bad Jobs and Poor Decisions, as I do all his writing. Everything he puts down on paper ought to be printed and disseminated to the reading public.” — R. Crumb

“I can’t help but fall for the way the rough and the poetic combine…Helton’s language will eat you up. His characters are wonderful and they are awful. They are so human, just like the rest of us.” — Erika T. Wurth, author of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and Buckskin Cocaine

“These pages contain a cutting, insightful, and addictively readable slice of sociological rabble-rousing—a literary feat that takes a rare talent to pull off. Luckily for us, J. R. Helton has that talent in spades. He fires on all cylinders, speaking truth after truth, and taking no prisoners.” — Tony O'Neill