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American Rust: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 12, 2010
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Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: Buell, Pennsylvania lies in ruins, a dying--if not already dead--steel town, where even the lush surrounding country seethes with concealed industrial toxins. When Isaac English and Billy Poe--a pair of high-school friends straight out of Steinbeck--embark on a starry-eyed cross-country escape to California, a violent encounter with a trio of transients leaves one dead, prying the lid off a rusted can of failed hope and small-town secrets. American Rust is Philipp Meyer's first novel, and his taut, direct prose strikes the perfect tone for this kaleidoscope of fractured dreams, elevating a book that otherwise might be relentlessly dour to the level of honest and unflinching storytelling. (Interestingly, Meyer has a fan in Patricia Cornwell, who name-checked American Rust in her latest novel, Scarpetta, even though Meyer's book hadn't been released yet.) --Jon Foro
Amazon Exclusive: Philipp Meyer on American Rust
In the late seventies, when I was five, my parents moved us to a blue-collar neighborhood in Baltimore. As was the case with most of the old cities of the northeast, Baltimore was in the throes of a serious social collapse. Any industry you could name was falling apart--steel, ship-building, textiles--not to mention the docks and the port. The middle class was evaporating. Even among the neighborhood kids, there was a sense that things were getting worse, not better.
That neighborhood was called Hampden, a place since immortalized in many of John Waters’s films. Back then, even in Baltimore’s often shoddy public schools, Hampden was not a place you wanted to admit you were from--my brother and I often lied when asked where we lived. There were police cars and ambulances on our street with some frequency, men passed out on the sidewalk. My father, a graduate student, once went outside with his pistol to check on a man whom he thought had been murdered near our house.
Even so, there was a strong community and the people who were able did their best to watch out for each other. These were good people, working people, but in the end that didn’t matter--their jobs had disappeared and they tumbled from the middle class into the ranks of what we now call the “working poor.” It was an early lesson into the way life worked for certain segments of our society.
Many years later, after a long and roundabout route to get into and eventually graduate from college, I ended up taking a job on Wall Street. I was proud of my new job, proud I’d gone from high school dropout to Cornell University graduate to Wall Street trader. Naturally, complications soon arose.
One surprising thing was that while in most of the country the closing of a factory was seen as tragic, on Wall Street it was nearly a cause for celebration. Whatever the company in question, closing an American factory caused their stock price to go up. The more jobs were outsourced, the more the company executives made on their stock options, the more investment bankers racked up multi-million dollar bonuses. Meanwhile, a short distance away, thousands of families were being devastated.
While I still have many close friends on Wall Street, after a few years there I knew it was the wrong path. I cared about people, I cared about their stories, I’d stopped caring about money. After leaving the bank I spent my time writing and working jobs in construction and as an EMT; I moved back in with my parents and lived in their basement. In 2005, I lucked into a writing scholarship at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas, where I wrote the majority of American Rust.
There are thousands of communities in which this book could have taken place, but Pittsburgh and the Monongahela Valley area, where I have many friends and family, seemed like the most natural setting. After thriving for a hundred years, helping to win our wars and build our great cities, the Mon Valley now offers a striking combination of rural beauty and industrial decay. Once the epitome of the American Dream--full of hard-working towns where you could make a name for yourself--the Valley today has the feel of a forgotten place.
This was the backdrop of the story I wanted to tell in American Rust--how events beyond our control can change the way we define our humanity. I think Americans are a tough people, but often our best doesn’t come out until we’re pushed our hardest. This is what I set out to do in the book. I wanted to examine the old American themes of the individual versus society, freedom versus determinism. I wanted to investigate what really makes us human.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From 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. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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And they're livin' in a nightmare.
Hard workin' people.
And they don't know
how they got there.
And they think that you don't care.
Hard workin' people"
Neil Young 'Ordinary People'
Philipp Meyer has written a superb novel of ordinary people, ordinary people who are desperate, trying to survive in a Pennsylvania steel town. He writes of tragedies in these lives,those who have no jobs, no opportunities and no future. His prose accurately describes the rusting steel of the towns along the Monongahela River. The rusting towns interspersed with beautiful lush trees and rivers flowing along the green grassy banks.
'American Rust' tells the story of two young men, so opposite in stature and style. One of them Issac is the genius, intelligent young man , small and looks years younger than his 20 years. Billy Poe is the strapping blond, good looking hero, football player. Both of these men were meant to make something of their lives, but circumstances changed these plans. Issac stayed home to care for his disabled father, and Billy Poe just never could get himself going to apply for that football scholarship. Issace decides after three years he has had enough and plans on leaving town. He steals four thousand dollars from his father's savings and sets out walking. Issac has talked Billy Poe into leaving with him. They stop off for a rest from the driving rain in an old mill buidling. Three homeless men find them there. A fight breaks out. At this place their lives change dramatically for them, and the people close to them. They react in fear and make a situation worse. They return home and nothing will ever be the same.
Grace, Billy's mother has lived her life for this boy. He is her life in many ways. Buddy Harris the Sheriff of the town has protected Billy most of his life because of the Sheriff's love for Grace. Lee, Issac's sister has married a wealthy man and lives in Conneticut. She has a strange marriage but is trying to hold it together. She loves her brother and feels guilt for leaving him with their father. And, Issac's father, knows he has not been a loving father to his son. But Issac took care of him and now he is alone. All of these characters are larger than life in some ways. They protect each other from the truth, run the emotional gamut of deep depression and then hope for the future. However, there is some lassitude, they can't seem to get started until they are forced to make decisions. They are all like you and me, trying to live each day the best they can. Tragedy and despair, love and hope, keeping their wits together for a better day.
This is a novel for our times. Who knew that we might all be facing such tough economic times in the year 2009. The times are changing and this novel gives us a look into our future. They are us and we are them.
An extraordinary novel, an American tale told in terms of decaying, rusted towns. A moral equivalent that resonates with some of our great writers. Prose with such elegant descriptive terms that one can see the novel in front of us. A book to be remembered.
Highly Highly Recommended. prisrob 02-27-09
Die Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster (German Edition)
If you like realistic, bleak portrayals of good, decent people trying to deal with unfortunate situations, you will enjoy this story.