Extract: ‘The Foothills’ by Richard Russo – Features, Books – The Independent

by Scott Smith

What I’d noticed, actually, was that none of the men on the island were missing fingers. As tanning and glove-making became increasingly mechanized, there were more and more accidents, more men maimed. To make them less cumbersome and unwieldy, the skins were halved, and cowhides in particular were too thick for gloves, which meant they had to be split. The staking machines used to stretch the skins, yielding more square footage, were particularly lethal, as were the embossing machines that used giant plates to give the leather a nice grain, and these descended with a force of 1,000 pounds per square inch. And of course the clicker-cutter operators had to make sure their fingers were outside the perimeter of the machines when the skins were stamped. Every stage of the process now required machines and the hides were fed into these by hand, the very hand you’d lose if your mind wandered for an instant.