Once an Engineer

A Song of the Salt City

By Joe Amato

Subjects: Italian American Studies, Autobiography, Biography And Memoir, New York/regional
Series: SUNY series in Italian/American Culture, Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438428444, 268 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9781438428437, 268 pages, September 2009

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Table of contents

Part I — Bildung
1. Winter Rat
2. Landscaping
3. Wicked Piss
4. Games People Play
5. The Flying Pork Chops and Other Adventures in Craft and Cuisine
6 Linkage

Part II — Rebuilding
7. Salt City
8. Just Produce: A Meditation on Time & Materials, Past & Present
9. Primitive Roots
10. Say-Cursed Susan B. Anthonies
11. Notes toward a Supreme Fiction
Epilogue: Variable Cloudiness, Chance of Precipitation 50%

A funny, tragic, garlicky chronicle of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Central New York.


Finalist for the 2009 ForeWord Book of the Year in the Autobiography/Memoir Category

Once an Engineer is a funny, tragic, garlicky chronicle of a dozen years spent growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. The tail end of the sixties finds Joe and his younger brother, Mike, living with their divorced and unemployed father in a low-income neighborhood on the edge of Syracuse, New York, a once prosperous city now down on its luck. Mike and Joe mature under their father's distinctively masculine tutelage, but their dreams of a better life are tempered by the harsh realities of public assistance.

When the brothers are offered the chance to attend college, they are drawn to the engineering profession, with its seductive promise of middle-class wages and social status. At the same time, their father's trade, furniture finishing, succumbs to a new era of industrial and economic change, and as the gap between father and sons widens, they come to learn the true costs of upward mobility.

Once an Engineer tells the story of three lives rooted in the moods and lore of Central New York, and the difficulty of finding meaningful work in a world gone inexorably, technologically global.

Joe Amato is the author of two books of literary criticism and theory, Industrial Poetics: Demo Tracks for a Mobile Culture and Bookend: Anatomies of a Virtual Self; four volumes of poetry, Pain Plus Thyme, Under Virga, Finger Exorcised, and Symptoms of a Finer Age; and a novel, Big Man with a Shovel. He is a native of Syracuse, New York.


"…Once an Engineer is about a world both coming apart and coming together, about the specializations that make communication between groups impossible even as technologies afford greater opportunities for communication. " — eveningredness. net

"Riveting from beginning to end, Amato's accounting of the small, opportunistic, almost haphazard moments that change the course of one's life is both funny and wise. " — Michael Joyce, author of Liam's Going: A Novel

"Joe Amato's Once an Engineer is an amazing display of stylistic range: on the one hand, a kind of writing so direct, blunt, and even brutal that it succeeds in the difficult art of erasing itself as art; on the other hand, a writing of high literary self-awareness and sophistication that won't let us forget that there is no exit from writing. In either register, a great pleasure. " — Frank Lentricchia, author of The Music of the Inferno