The Federal Arts Projects were created by FDR in the summer of 1935. A year later, a handful of writers employed in the St. Louis office of the Missouri Writers' Project, including Jack Balch, went out on strike. "Lamps at High Noon" is the only novel about this strike and the only one to treat comprehensively any aspect of the Federal Writers' Project, whose participants included some of the country's most accomplished and promising authors. Charlie Gest, the wide-eyed and well-intentioned protagonist of the novel, confronts firsthand the project's sometimes underhanded efforts to monitor the political views of its writers. Named assistant director of the project in Monroe (a fictional St. Louis), Gest is vaguely aware that the program's good intentions do not always overshadow the abuses it tolerates, which include shielding corporate interests and avoiding hiring highly qualified black writers. Gest is hounded by a nagging suspicion that, like lamps that burn in broad daylight, the issues at stake in the work stoppage are not the ones that most need addressing.
Part radical socialist commentary, part absurdist theater, Balch's novel offers a peerless critical engagement of the economic constraints and political exigencies surrounding debates over the federal funding of art since the New Deal.