lupoman, March 15, 2009 (view all comments by lupoman)
When I received an advanced copy of this novel, a note from Cindy Spiegel, the publisher, was included, and she compares this author to John Steinbeck.
After reading this page-turner, I was pleasantly surprised that I couldn't put this book down and each character was named as the title of each chapter, alternating until the fast-paced end. The novel is well written, and for a first book of the author, it has Pulitzer Prize written all over it.
The next John Steinbeck? Read this book and you be the judge. 5 stars
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This is a distressing story centered on a region, western Pennsylvania, where the near total closing of almost all of area’s huge steel mills in the 1980s and 90s has left behind profound economic devastation and widespread despair in individuals and families, who were solely dependent on the good wages of the steel mills. This book, looking at the situation a few years after the closings, is mostly concerned with the severe impacts that the economic turn of events has had on lives: the unrelenting stresses placed on families and the difficult choices, if they really are that, that have to be made.
Billy Poe, as a jock, and Isaac English, in intelligence quotient, were two of the more talented graduates of their local high school, yet two years later they are still in town and simply drifting. While there is no denying that specific family circumstances have played a role, there is little doubt that the ramifications of economic hard times have permeated their psyches, never really allowing them to consider life-changing possibilities. It’s only fitting that their chance encounter with vagrants in a closed outbuilding of a steel mill, unfortunately resulting in a death, gives the book impetus to scrutinize life in this bleak environment. In addition to the two young men, the author alternates chapters from the perspective of Billy’s mother Grace, Isaac’s sister Lee, and Sheriff Bud Harris. The reader is privy to their thoughts about trying to understand the directions that their lives have taken and their more immediate concerns of Isaac being on the run and Billy’s arrest and incarceration. One of the most compelling story lines is the precarious romantic involvement of Grace and Bud given the complications in their lives.
The book is a bit drawn out – repetitious. The observations of the closed steel mills and the rolling green hills are repeated so often that it becomes a mantra. The author employs a free-form stream of consciousness that can be awkward, but is consistent with the pervasive psychological dissonance. There is no doubt that prospects are bleak for these characters: there are no tidy resolutions available. Yet, there is a certain resoluteness, even toughness, displayed that redeems them despite their fallibilities and failures in the face of very harsh and arbitrary conditions.
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danielcasey, March 9, 2009 (view all comments by danielcasey)
Is it possible to read a novel about the working class and/or working poor that doesn't in some way slide into stale ideologies or crass sentimentality? I do think so. Perhaps, Meyers does as well.
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Chris Horne, March 5, 2009 (view all comments by Chris Horne)
I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of American Rust, a powerful debut novel and a rare find: compelling literary fiction with the engine of a gripping thriller. The story of the fallout of a murder on a group of connected characters is set in an economically depressed region of Pennsylvania whose struggle, like so many of these people, is all the more difficult in the (often literal) shadow of its former greatness and promise. And that's what Meyer does so well here, beyond creating a engrossing page-turner -- we get to know all of these terrifically realized characters through their perspective, and those intimate portraits web together to give us something bigger: the complex relationship between people and place, individuals and community. And though the characters are all bound by this dying town and the blowback of the crime that affects them all, the division of the story into these individual perspectives gives a real sense of their isolation; the characters might find salvation in each other, if they could only communicate their need for it. American Rust is an overall outstanding read from a major new talent.
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Bev E., March 5, 2009 (view all comments by Bev E.)
American Rust is a story about two young men, Poe and Issac who are coming of age in a blue collar Pennsylvania town that has fallen on hard times. There is a murder, an act of self defense but neither boy sees it that way and immaturity leads them to try and hide the evidence.
This story deals with what happens to us when our dreams are shattered, about true friendship and the things we do to try to make things right.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"In his unrelentingly downbeat debut, Meyer offers up a character-driven near-noir set in Buell, a dying Pennsylvania steel town, where aimless friends Billy Poe and Isaac English are trapped by economic and personal circumstance. Just before their halfhearted escape to California, Isaac accidentally kills a transient who tries to rob Poe. The boys return to the crime scene the next day with plans to cover up the crime, setting the plot in motion. Poe is soon under suspicion, and Isaac, distraught after discovering Poe has been carrying on a relationship with Isaac's sister, Lee, sets off for California alone. Meanwhile, Poe's mother, Grace, mourns her own lost opportunities, broods over her son and pines for her on-again-off-again love, the local sheriff. A fully realized tragic heroine, Grace is the poignant thrust of the novel, embodying enough rural tragedy to nearly atone for the novel's weakness: a sense that some of the plot mechanics are arbitrary. Still, Meyer has a thrilling eye for failed dreams and writes uncommonly tense scenes of violence, and in the character of Grace creates a woeful heroine. Fans of Cormac McCarthy or Dennis Lehane will find in Meyer an author worth watching." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Colm Tóibín, author of The Master and The Blackwater Lightship,
"Philipp Meyer's American Rust is written with considerable dramatic intensity and pace. It manages an emotional accuracy, a deep and detailed conviction, in its depiction of character. It also captures a sense of a menacing society, a wider world in the throes of decay and self-destruction."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"[A] grimly powerful hybrid: provocative literary fiction crossed with a propulsive thriller."
by Library Journal,
"A Pandora's box of debate for book clubs....[S]trongly recommended."
by Patricia Cornwell, author of Scarpetta,
"A novel as splendidly crafted and original as any written in recent decades, American Rust is both darkly disturbing and richly compelling. Philipp Meyer's first novel signals the arrival of a new voice in American letters."
by George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround,
"With its strong narrative engine and understated social insight, American Rust is reminiscent of the best of Robert Stone and Russell Banks. Author Philipp Meyer locates the heart of his working class characters without false sentiment or condescension, and their world is artfully described. An extraordinary, compelling novel from a major talent."
by Pete Dexter, author of Paper Trails,
"This is strong, clean stuff. Philipp Meyer deserves to be taken seriously."
by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times,
"American Rust announces the arrival of a gifted new writer — a writer who understands how place and personality and circumstance can converge to create the perfect storm of tragedy."
by Dallas Morning News,
"In contemporary fiction Meyer...most resembles Andre Dubus, Dennis Lehane or Richard Price. Bleak and nasty."
by Kansas City Star,
"[F]ull of a sorrowful hope that is graced by a profound respect for struggle and the unrelenting courage necessary to carry on."
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