When Tom Stechschulte lures us with his steady voice into the blighted steel town of Buell, Pennsylvania, Isaac English is on his way out. On Isaac's last night in town, he and his best friend Billy Poe meet up in an abandoned steel mill for some drinks, some laughs20-year-old guy stuff. But what happens to them that night will trap Poe in Buell and send Isaac on the run.
Philipp Meyer's American Rust is a commentary on post-industrial America. Meyer's spare, harsh prose recalls the machismo of Ernest Hemingway and exposes the wounded pride of the men in this story. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and Stechschulte alters his steely, accent-less voice accordingly, but leaves room in each for a common vulnerability, a confessional tone, that keeps the listener interested.
One by one, Meyer presents the possibility for each character's success or happiness. Isaac scored a 1560 on his SATs. Poe received a football scholarship to college. Isaac's dad moves to Indiana for a better paying job. Poe's mom Grace and the sheriff Bud Harris just might make it as a couple. Isaac's sister Leigh made it to Yale.
And one by one, every single character's hopes are diminished, but not by any single devastating incident. Over a long period of time, through overexposure to harsh sunlight and cold, driving rain, we listen as this steel town rusts.
While rust serves in this novel primarily as a metaphor for the atrophy of American industrial society, the listener is also reminded that rust binds metals together. It is indeed the hope that Isaac and Poe have in each otherthrough all the hardship that follows the night in the millthat makes American Rust well worth the listen. ;Sarah Evans Hogeboom
Left alone to care for his aging father after his mother commits suicide and his sister escapes to Yale, Isaac English longs for a life beyond his hometown. But when he finally sets out to leave for good, accompanied by his temperamental best friend, former high school football star Billy Poe, they are caught up in a terrible act of violence that changes their lives forever.
Evoking John Steinbeck's novels of restless lives during the Great Depression, American Rust takes us into the contemporary American heartland at a moment of profound unrest and uncertainty about the future. It is a dark but lucid vision, a moving novel about the bleak realities that battle our desire for transcendence and the power of love and friendship to redeem us.
©2009 Philipp Meyer; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
"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)
"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." (The New York Times)
"This bleak but skillful debut novel is both affecting and timely." (The New Yorker)
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Probably 4.5 corroded stars. An amazing first novel that spins a web of despair and desperation set in a degraded rust belt town that is still in the midst of the Fall. It is a novel of hard compromises, silent heros, and people that grind on every day knowing the sun for them will not rise tomorrow. This is a great American novel that narrates the things we all do to survive in a universe that is slowly growing cold. It is written for and about the people we rely on to survive, those we hurt and the people we leave behind.
American Rust is (and this is absolutely not original) like J.D. Salinger's Glass family had been taken from 1940s Manhattan and dropped unceremoniously into a Cormac McCarthy novel. I still can't get over the fact that this was a first novel. Tom Stechschulte delivers an amazing performance in this 3rd person, split-personality narration where almost every character is a jumble of stream of conscious inner monologues.
This novel combines engaging characters, great atmosphere, insights into sobering socio-economic change, fine writing and a plot that grows more compelling as the story unfolds.
Early on, one fear might be that the whole thing will be just too depressing to stick with. In a dying town in a region where a once great (if cruel) industrial civilization is collapsing (and returning to nature), two young men get themselves into grim trouble. There seems no hope for anyone involved, all of whom seem to be making one bad choice after another.
But the characters, the boys Issac and Billy Poe, Billy's mom Grace, Issac's sister Lee and most especially the sheriff Harris, quickly grow on the listener, and their stories become riveting and make the story well worth hanging with while it's power fully kicks in. What follows is more complex, more surprising and more satisfying than you might expect from the early going.
Some synopses of this novel suggest that there is some heart warming 'us against the world' friendship binding the two mismatched main characters. The reality is far less rosy/cliched but ultimately more believable.
This novel offers a deep and rewarding look at harsh changes in the fortunes of a part of America, propelled by excellent story telling and finely rendered, very real characters. Highly recommended.
The narrator is very good; he reminds me of the superlative Ron McLarty.
The initial commentary (header)comparing American Rust with Steinbeck is successful as both authors have the ability to characterize periods in American history (the dust bowl, Monterey's Cannery Row and rust belt). The difference in my mind is that while Steinbeck remains hopeful, the same cannot easily be said of American Rust. Louise picked up on this when she felt the characters were depressing which they are. Maybe this is the difference between the 30's depression and todays being the lack of hope or joy. A more successful book coming from a similar rural setting but with more likible characters is Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs. It is amazing to see how authors can look at the same scene and come up with entirely different POVs. Almost like Monet and Picasso looking at bunch of flowers. Thus this ability to assimilate the same environment and then interpret it so differently is not restricted soley to the fine arts.
I grew up and live in southwestern Pennsylvania. I'm from a family of steel workers. I watched my father, uncles and my husband loose their jobs when the factories went under. I was a part of this : families falling apart and Loosing everything. Geographic , chronology and demographics are all right on. My mind vividly depicted the settings as the characters drifted through each scene. This book really hit home. A keeper !
This review includes a spoiler.
Prison scene when Poe had to decide whether to beat up the guard. I wondered how he would get out of that.
Great Narration. SPOILER SPOILER Ok. I don't get why Grace had to go away for a while, can someone tell me? And, was the trailer actually burned, or was that part of a flashback. Also, why would the revolver not be traced to Harris?
I get what Phillip Meyer was trying to do-capture American economic angst by using the rust belt as a motif. But the metaphor was too simple and too overdone. The story was good. Think Jack Kerouac mixed with the TV prison drama Oz mixed with Jerry Springer white trash love. It's compelling enough, but I went into this after reading on Wikipedia (of all places)
that this was considered a 'great American novel'. I came away 12 hours later entertained, but by no means blown away.
I was blown away by this book. Beautiful stream of consciousness storytelling, complex characters, a fantastic story. I hope this author has more books so i can listen to them all
Forensic Psychologist in Northern California
Gritty narrative, excellent depiction of cultural demise.
The way relatively good people find themselves severely compromised.
No. Some passages were worth mulling over.
A lot of passive verbs. Whatever, I don't write that well...
I am only half way through, but so far this is excellent. Very believable characters and great character development. Each with their flaws. Each likeable and non-likeable at the same time. Seem very real with excelent insight to me. Nice to see blue collar characters set out as sensitive, intelligent folks, able to understand human nature.
Mostly folks doing their best in trying circumstances to do the right thing with conflicting loyalties and duties.
Nice use of descriptions of natural beauty even though there is blight. It uplifts each character appropriately at appropriate times.
Excellent sense of place and time. Accurate details, at least as to what I know. I like the idea of going from interior dialogue to interior dialogue among characters.
Re the story overall great, but I gave it four stars instead of five because in a few instances events seemed too pat, too timed, so artificial with specific transparent purposes.
Narrator is great. Excellent voice for this work. Completely professional and easy to listen to. His reading is never noticeable. Easy to become engrossed in story.
One of only maybe two or three books I've purchased so far that I just couldn't finish. The people aren't likable, the atmosphere is rather depressing. The book is well written but didn't bring any enjoyment.
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