Paul Neville / Photo by Chris Pietsch

Humpin’ Garbage, Learning Life’s Lessons

Paul Neville reads from his coming-of-age first novel at Tsunami Books

He established himself in Eugene through the decades as a reporter and associate editor at The Register-Guard as well as director of public relations and grants at St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County at St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County.

Now retired from all of that, Paul Neville is reaching to his past for his first novel, The Garbage Brothers, and he will read from the book and sign copies April 15 at Tsunami Books.

The Garbage Brothers is a witty and big-hearted coming-of-age novel set in Chicago in the summer of 1969 and featuring 18-year-old Jesse Wheeler, whose suburban life is shattered after his father dies. He barely graduates from high school and his life is adrift.

Jesse takes a summer job with Willard Sanitation Service in the flyspeck town of Freedom “humpin’ garbage” and learning life’s hard lessons from crass, streetwise ex-felons — Pickles, Zeus, Grits and their foreman Billy Bart — as well as the niece of one of his coworkers, Iris.

The Garbage Brothers focuses on the coming of age of my main character, Jesse Wheeler,” Neville tells Eugene Weekly. “But I hope the book also exposes readers to the bluer-than-blue-collar world of working felons that few novelists have written about.”

The novel is loosely based on Neville’s early adult years. He, too, was an 18-year-old Chicago-based suburban kid “fresh out of high school with dubious grades,” and he needed a job to help pay his way through college.

“The money was good — Teamsters’ wages,” Neville says, “but the real payoff was the men I worked with, the friends I made, the very unsuburban experiences I had, and the cafés and bars where I spent time listening to my coworkers tell extraordinary stories.”

It took nearly a decade for Neville to finish The Garbage Brothers, and his efforts didn’t gain full traction until he left SVdP in 2020. His next novel is progressing more rapidly. The first draft of Chasing Sam Bradbury, a historical novel that tells the story of a Ku Klux Klan revival in a small southern Indiana town after World War II, is complete, Neville says. 

Paul Neville will read excerpts and sign copies of The Garbage Brothers from 2 pm to 4 pm Saturday, April 15, at Tsunami Books, 2585 Willamette Street. FREE.


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