In The New York Times review of this book Jess Row says that the stories are treated "sketchily, as illustrations rather than fully formed narratives." I wonder if he would say the same about the characters. Many are a bit Dickensian, humorous caricatures with nicknames like Old Root, Big Bowl and Bamboo Chopsticks, all caught up in social upheavals on the magnitude survivors of the industrial revolution would surely appreciate.
For this and other reasons Row finds Years of Red Dust interesting more "as a historical text" than as "a work of fiction." But the historical significance is itself compelling. With free market capitalism in full sway on a global scale it's no wonder conservatives and Republicans in the US are impatient to deregulate, end taxes and watch that economy grow.
Which is fine if you don't mind squalor, pollution and war --sure to be the byproducts of unbridled competition. During the Reagan years I worked for a big corporation that tried to convince its employees that cooperation and collaboration were more productive than competition.
It would be nice to be around when that idea comes back in style.