- Series: Random House Reader's Circle
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Spiegal & Grau Paperback Edition edition (January 12, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385527527
- ISBN-13: 978-0385527521
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 393 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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American Rust: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – January 12, 2010
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Praise for American Rust
“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.”—Patricia Cornwell, author of Scarpetta
“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.”—George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround
“This is strong, clean stuff. Philipp Meyer deserves to be taken seriously.”—Pete Dexter, author of Paper Trails
“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.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Master
“Meyer has a thrilling eye for failed dreams and writes uncommonly tense scenes of violence . . . Fans of Cormac McCarthy or Dennis Lehane will find in Meyer an author worth watching.”—Publishers Weekly
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.
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There are so many towns like this across our country that were once booming and then fell flat when jobs were outsourced to other countries ("Outsourced" is such a nice word to use when you really just mean that outrageously paid executives decided to save the company money by sending jobs overseas to countries that have no EPA, OSHA, etc.) This book looks at a half dozen people in one of these dead end towns. It seems that the whole book hinges on one event, but as the story is told, you not only see what that event leads to, you learn the past choices of the characters, and how life gets pushed in one direction. You may think that a character's choice is just that - a choice, but when you get in their head, you understand that there didn't seem to be much of a choice most of the time.
It's a bit depressing. I usually stay away from depressing books. (I read two books by Jane Smiley, and vowed to never read another.) But this is different. I guess thoughtful would be a better adjective to describe this than depressing.
All that to say, The Son was so well written that I was eager to read anything else written by Meyer. That led me to Meyer’s first novel, American Rust, which reads like a sorrowful swan song to the American rust belt. The story brings to light the consequences of the steel industry’s death as the reader is drawn into the lives of several families and their struggle to love, survive, and escape. The narrative centers in on the plight of Billy Poe, a driftless, could-have-been, washed up former high school football star, and Isaac, an unmoored genius who struggles to escape the gravity of his impoverished circumstances. Throw in a little murder and a love triangle and you have a story you won’t soon forget. My only critique is that I wished Meyer had wrapped up the story a little more neatly but we can leave that for the eventual movie version.
You ought to be able to grow up in a place and not have to get the hell out of it when you turn eighteen.”
“this is what it means to get old, you don’t look forward to pleasure so much as easing pain.”
“Same as what they taught you as a lifeguard- you have to save yourself before you can save anyone else. ”
“And one day...there would be no record, nothing left standing, to show that anything had ever been built in America. It was going to cause big problems, he didn't know how but he felt it. You could not have a country, not this big, that didn't make things for itself. There would be ramifications eventually.”
Lee English is the one character that escapes the gravity of the town and graduates from Yale University, later marrying into a wealthy family. In commenting on her cohort of acquaintances in colleges she comments that most of them will never experience the feeling on wanting something and never getting it. She views this as a weakness but it's also seeded in the bitterness of her own background where that's the central feeling that most people experience (Chapter 5, 33:08 in the audiobook).
The soul and society crushing reality of losing a skilled steel-making job and no longer having something that you're good at (Chapter 14, 06:16).
The idea that rich people view the world the same way as someone with brain damage--they don't understand the realities of life (Chapter 20, 18:55).
Going back to the epigraphs from Kierkegaard and Camus, though, Meyer alerts the reader to watch for hope. And this despite a sense throughout that all characters are heading for an ugly denouement. Here too, the Old Testament lurks. Perhaps the inverted existentialism of the epigraph is meant to cloud the meaning of savior?
The writing was fine and Meyer handles the various interior monologues nicely, differentiating appropriately from one to the next. But the story was all a bit too heavy-handed and derivative. I had the sense of being led by the nose. Still, I recommend reading it.