Thursday, February 4, 2010

17 - American Rust ; Philipp Meyer

American Rust is a simple, but compelling story that paints a bleak portrait of life in the once thriving steel mill towns of Pennsylvania.  The story is set in present day, in the fictional town of Buell, PA.  As the mills closed down and companies moved elsewhere, many local businesses, once prosperous are now boarded up. The once lovely landscape, is marred by polluted rivers and rusted out buildings and barges. The people who still live in the area have very few employment alternatives.  Many of those who were making top blue collar wages, were now either unemployed or stuck in minimum wage jobs, struggling to support themselves, never mind a family.

The central characters are two very different, high school friends Issac English and Billy Poe. Isaac was top in his class, brilliant like his sister Lee who is left Buell and is now a student at Yale. While Isaac should to off attending a top rated college as well, instead he is at home caring for his disabled father who was injured at work.  His mother committed suicide earlier.  Billy Poe was a football hero in high school, but instead of going off to college on an athletic scholarship, the angry, hot-headed Billy stays back in his hometown of Buell as well.

One day Isaac decides to leave town with some of his father's money. He tells he buddy his plans to hitch a train and head for Berkeley, CA.  However, when an incident involving some homeless men results in one person dead, and later an identifying jacket is found at the scene, the lives of these two friends, and the people close to them will be forever changed.

MY THOUGHTS - American Rust is an amazing debut novel -- the title fits the story perfectly. The story is told through shifting perspectives, and through the inner thoughts of the characters --a style that works well. A cautionary novel that showcases what often happens to once booming towns when the good jobs dry up, and the families left behind are unable to work and support their families.  It's also a story about moral dilemmas, and about people who have too much time on their hands, and some who make the wrong choices in life.  The characters in this novel, even the minor ones, are flawed yet so very realistic.  American Rust is a sad story, but if you can handle that, and go in with your eyes wide open, this book is really a worthwhile read.  I think this book would be a good choice for book club discussion. I'll be looking for future works by this author. RECOMMENDED - 4/5 stars.

About the Author
 Philipp Meyer grew up in Baltimore, dropped out of high school, and got his GED when he was sixteen. After spending several years volunteering at a trauma center in downtown Baltimore, he attended Cornell University, where he studied English. Since graduating, Meyer has worked as a derivatives trader at UBS, a construction worker, and an EMT, among other jobs. His writing has been published in McSweeney’s, The Iowa Review, Salon.com, and New Stories from the South. From 2005 to 2008 Meyer was a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. He splits his time between Texas and upstate New York.
 
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the Opportunity to Read/Review this Book.

(To view the complete list of tour stops, and links to other reviews for this book visit the TLC site.)

21 comments:

  1. The setting reminds me of the community I once lived at in Pennsylvania. Great review. I hope to read the book soon. Aloha from Rob

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  2. This book sort of reminds of the literary equivalent of Billy Joel's "Allentown." And the author's real life story (high school dropout to Ivy league education & Wall Street trader -- wow!)sounds almost as compelling to the novel.

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  3. This sounds like a great book for the times! I imagine there are place going through the same thing right now.

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  4. I just won a copy of this book in literaryfeline's giveaway. I'm really looking forward to reading it. It sounds great!

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  5. I've read some conflicting reviews on this one. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Great review!

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  6. Love stories about mid-west America. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

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  7. Sounds like a really interesting story Diane and one that I'm sure I would enjoy!

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  8. I didn't like this one as much as you did and didn't finish it. I am really glad to have read your perspective on it. Maybe I should give it another try...it sounds as though I may have missed something

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  9. Thanks for all of your comments --American Rust, IMO, is not a book to read if you are feeling a bit down, but it sure is very realistic read.

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  10. Excellent review! I'd love to read this book. It sounds like "real life" for many Americans.

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  11. This sounds like such an interesting book. I am going to have to check it out. And I really love the cover.

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  12. My husband's family is from Bethlehem PA, where the steel mills used to be. When they closed, it was a mess for so many people. Just last year, they started turning the steel mills into casinos.

    I'm sure so many people can relate to the sentiments of this book.

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  13. Diane, great review! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review American Rust. We really appreciate it!

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  14. It's not just the Midwest that has towns like this. I've lived in the Utica, New York area. Utica was a beautiful, prosperous city once. But then the same thing happened: industry left. All those gorgeous Victorian mansions divided into Section 8 housing. . .

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  15. I'm really looking forward to this one.

    I have an award for you at:

    http://litandlife.blogspot.com/2010/02/thanks-ladies.html

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  16. Thanks for sharing similar stories everyone. It really is sad to see what is happening throughout our country; Most recently evidence by the auto industry and Michigan--very
    sad indeed.

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  17. I have this from last year. I've been dying to read it. I have the ARC. Thanks for your thoughts now I am torn between my next reading choices. LOL

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  18. I won this book at Wendy's (Literary Feline) and I can't wait to read it. :D

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  19. I have this book on my library "holds" list, mainly because I lived for over a decade in a "steel town" and saw the tragedy of the disappearing industry.

    I'm REALLY looking forward to it now - thanks for the excellent review!

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  20. I am glad you enjoyed this one too, Diane. It really was a moving book. And there was so much to it. I'm so glad I read it. Thank you for your great review.

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  21. I like your review on this one! I really enjoyed the book. It was gritty and realistic. And well not a "feel good" book. But I thought it was written well.

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