If you’ve ever hired a moving company to lug your belongings between homes, or even if you haven’t, you will be intrigued by this coolly intelligent piece of social anthropology.

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This article was published 14/10/2017 (1474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you’ve ever hired a moving company to lug your belongings between homes, or even if you haven’t, you will be intrigued by this coolly intelligent piece of social anthropology.

Author Taylor Lambert is a Calgary journalist with two minor non-fiction books to his credit. Journalism and authoring being what they are these days, he keeps a sideline as a furniture mover, something he has done since his university days a decade ago.

What the job has given him, besides rent money, is an entrée to a different social class and a natural subject for this empathetic (though unimaginatively titled) book.

"Moving is the lowest rung of unskilled labour," he writes in Darwin’s Moving (the name of the company he works for). "It is a hard job, but there are no real prerequisites or qualifications, no education or criminal record check needed."

Lambert alternates between describing the job itself and delving into back stories of a few of the "unreliable characters" he works with. He excavates their awful childhoods, often involving abandonment and abuse, and documents their resulting addiction issues and criminal histories. "They are the Other Calgary, the flip side of the boom coin," he writes, "the ones who can’t afford sky-high rent or nice cars or trendy restaurants and craft beer."

Toronto author Pat Capponi has covered similar territory in her books about the mentally ill and working poor. U.S. journalist Katherine Boo offered a more ambitious take in her 2012 masterpiece Behind the Beautiful Forevers, set in Mumbai’s slums.

Lambert’s model, consciously or not, has to be George Orwell’s slender 1933 classic, Down and Out in Paris and London. Lambert employs first-person narration; his plain style, free of affectation, hyperbole or complaint, echoes the master’s unadorned prose.

He is likewise aware of the political and economic implications of his subject matter. "Despite the humble backgrounds or appalling histories of my co-workers, we have been in the homes of some of the wealthiest people in Calgary," Lambert writes.

"The dichotomy between this country’s haves and have-nots is seldom made clearer than in the juxtapositions of the moving industry."

For large sections of the book, we are in the van or at the job site with him and his partners. We learn the techniques of lifting heavy furniture around tight corners and also many tips of the moving trade.

Movers earn between $20 and $25 an hour. Working days can easily stretch 16 hours and longer. Tipping, however, "is the exception and not the rule."

They "despise finicky nuts-and-bolts bits-and-pieces assembly/disassembly work." They enjoy a toke between loading and unloading. "It’s worth noting," Lambert writes, "that only the worst movers saw their performance affected by weed."

A mover is happy to take an unwanted piece of furniture off a customer’s hands. "Half the time we sell these things ourselves for cash."

Darwin’s Moving would be stronger if Lambert had been able to coax some of the class resentment he intuits in his co-workers directly from them. But they remain largely inarticulate.The book suffers from some annoying syntax and grammar errors common in small-press offerings.

But these are niggling complaints. In Darwin’s Moving, Lambert has shed light on a corner of the Canadian working world few even think about. The ghost of Orwell approves.

Morley Walker is a retired Free Press journalist.