Red Baker by Robert Ward ended up as a free download, but I pulled it down. I had never heard of Red Baker or Robert Ward, even though Red Baker was listed as the best novel published in the United States in 1985. Really? The title character is a down and out (mostly of his own doing) laid-off steelworker in Baltimore in the mid-1980s. I've been laid-off five times in my life. I've never reacted like the type of asshole that this guy did.
Nevertheless, this is a good character study of someone missing out on all the signals in his life that people do care about you even when things look their worst. His descent is slow and painful. I would have died twice over with the abuse he puts his body through, and there are times, long before people tire of his antics that I don't understand why they care about the man so much.
While well written (the author's had 27 years to fix any issues with it), I found the ending not terribly redemptive. It was somewhat hopeful, but so many people where hurt along the way that it gives new meaning to forgiveness. Best book in 1985? I don't know, but despite my carping about some of it's deficiencies it is a solid read with a dark, gritty view of Baltimore, serving as both a setting and a character, before some of the renaissance that went into making it a better city. It's a solid 4 for me.