, Newburyport, MA


March 7, 2014

Finding life in a fishing town

Woman saves last processing plant in Gloucester-based novel


Born in Manhattan, Frederick Dillen has lived in countless places and worked many jobs, while trying to make a living as a novelist. Dillen lives in New Mexico for now, but Gloucester got more than 10 years of his life; a daughter and granddaughter still reside here.

He remembers writing before dawn in deepest winter in a house with no insulation and looking out over the ocean as far as the horizon. He remembers the big meeting in the 1990s when the Gloucester High gym filled with fishermen from Long Island to Maine arguing and hoping against implementation of the latest and toughest fishing regulations.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the institutional guys talk so confidently about the changes, and more heartbreaking to see that the fishermen were mostly older, proof that the kids were going off the island for other jobs,” he said.

During his time here, Dillen got hack work for big corporations and became familiar with that cutthroat world and with the term “corporate undertaker,” referring to the person who “buries the leftovers from mergers and acquisitions,” which includes the killing of jobs and selling of company assets.

From these worlds emerged the tale Dillen now tells in “Beauty,” a story that centers on Carol MacLean, a businesswoman in her 50s who hails from blue-collar Detroit. She climbed the corporate ladder, ultimately landing a position as an undertaker for a New York mergers-and-acquisitions firm. She has shut down dozens of factories and put hundreds of blue-collar workers, like her dad and the kids she grew up with, out on the street.

“She’s good at it, and she hates it,” Dillen said. “And when she realizes she’s going to get canned after burying her latest corpse, the last processing plant in a hard-times Massachusetts fishing port, she decides, with the help of people in town, to take over the old plant and run it.”

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