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25th February
2010
written by Tony

When a piece of metal rusts, it is like a cancer. The oxidation spreads slowly, bubbling the paint before it erupts to the surface like an angry weal that can only be removed and patched over with a new piece of uncorrupted metal. After a certain point the rust can’t be stopped and the entire affected area has to be removed to protect the rest of the undamaged metal. And, even if it is stopped, there is always the risk of return, there is never remission. A chip leads to a flake which exposes the metal’s strength to the corruption of the air and the rust returns, requiring constant vigilance. Set amidst the ruins of a beautiful but economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town, American Rust tells the story of the slow decay of the people trapped by the gutted city of Buell and the prison of its influence. The strength of steel is slowly eroded by the creeping influence of rust born of neglect, and as rust slowly spreads across the closed mills of Buell it becomes apparent that the residents of the doomed city are decaying as surely as the ruins left in the shadows and smoke of the once vibrant smelters and factories. This is a story of wasted potential, of how the only way for someone to escape the gravity of their ruined hometown is to corrode enough to reach escape velocity for want of the weight of any remaining substance. This is the story of how a murder in the vacant outbuilding of a ruined train car factory irrevocably alters the lives of two young men, boys really, named Isaac English and Billy Poe. The incident that flaked off the last scrap of paint to reveal the ruin festering below is the catalyst that launches the story into a spiral of decay and seeming inevitability. This isn’t a happy story, and like much of life, it isn’t tied neatly into a bow at the end. Happy endings are for fairy tales, not a book that deals with the harsh duality of beauty surrounded by despair and the all-conquering entropy that engulfs the reality of survival in this valley. This story tells of the very real devastation that residents of the rust belt face as their once powerful industry languishes in decline. It tells of pollution of the land, and of the spirit, and of compromises needed to stave off total destruction. Meyer tells a powerful story that, especially now, resonates with anyone mildly acquainted with the current economy. Prospects of problems many of us already face loom large in this book and Meyer’s easy prose deftly animates the despair and harsh reality of the people trapped in this novel. Chapters alternate between the internal monologues of the various characters throughout the book, navigating the waters of stream of consciousness with a considered grace that keeps pages turning. Meyer’s clean writing manages to impart both a tired nostalgia and a sense of reality and currency that at once clash and coexist in a way that shouldn’t work, but does, making the ambivalence that the characters in the book seem to award their decaying lives all the more stingingly poignant. I received this book through a TLC book tour, and offer them my thanks for exposing me to such an excellent piece of contemporary literature. I’ve included the relevant links below my rating. 4 out of 5 The tour schedule is here. American Rust on Amazon.com. Philipp Meyer's Web Page. American Rust's Facebook Page.

8 Comments

  1. 02/25/2010

    Is it bad that this book makes me depressed just reading about it?

  2. I am tempted to read this book, but it does sound a bit depressing.

  3. 02/25/2010

    I also think this would be depressing, but your review is wonderful; it really captures the bleakness and desolation of this town.

  4. 02/25/2010

    I just got this one from the library last week and am excited to read it. Great review!

  5. 02/25/2010

    This book just didn’t resonate for me in the way I had hoped it would. I am thinking that it was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time, and after reading your very eloquent and beautiful review, I think it might be time to try again with it. I am glad that you enjoyed it, and although it was a bit of depressing read, I feel that there is much in the book that could possibly reward a patient rereading.

  6. 02/25/2010

    @Amanda & Jackie: The book is a bit depressing, but I don’t think that is any reason to avoid it. I often find books like this cathartic in a way, which can be nice provided you’re in the right mood.

    @rhapsody: Thanks!

    @Kathleen: Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!

    @zibilee: I think this book definitely merits re-reading. I can definitely see how being in a certain state of mind might get in the way of enjoying some of the books more objective qualities.

  7. 02/26/2010

    I am so excited to read this one! The reviews for it have been great. I checked it out from the library and now I just have to find time to read it.

  8. 02/28/2010

    As many of the other commenters said, this does sound very depressing, especially because of its obvious relevance in this dire economic times. But I definitely wouldn’t avoid it on that account.

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