american rust

I finished American Rust almost two weeks ago.  I’ve started to write about it a few different times, but after having trouble starting, just told myself to think it over a little while longer.  

So I’ve thought.  And I’m still not entirely sure what to say. 

I liked the book — I really did.  It took me several weeks to read, and I’d go a few chapters at a time before getting sidetracked and ignoring it for days on end.  But every time I picked it back up, I would fall right back into it — until the next time I set it down.  In fact, that was my only real complaint about it; it was a little too easy to put down.    

Philipp Meyer’s American Rust is a story of consequences.  It’s set in a Pennsylvania town devastated by the collapse of the steel industry, and its main characters are trapped there by their choices.  But the plot focuses on the aftereffects of one jarring event. 

Meyer sets the stage well; his description of rural Pennsylvania is deliberate and thorough, and it doesn’t require much effort on the part of the reader to visualize the homes of Isaac English and Billy Poe, the two young men at the heart of the story.  This, as well as his portrayal of each of the characters, shows his strength as a writer.   With each new chapter, the perspective from which the story is being told shifts; sometimes we are looking through the lens of Isaac or Poe, and at other times from the point of view of one of their family members.  Meyer provides a unique voice for each of them, and though some characters are better developed than others, seeing the events unfold from multiple perspectives provides a bigger picture of the situation than would be seen through one character.  

For all of these reasons, this book is one worth reading.  It’s a strong piece of literature, and one that will likely stand the test of time.  But it isn’t what I would call a gripping plot; it moves slowly, and though there is some curiosity as to where the characters will find themselves, the more pressing question is often why they’re doing what they’re doing (or why they’ve done what they’ve done).  But that’s okay.  Some books are the types you read in one sitting — others you can set down and think about for awhile before picking them back up…or writing about them.  American Rust is an example of the latter — but an excellent one.


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~ by Molly on April 27, 2009.

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