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American Rust

Narrated by: Tom Stechschulte
Length: 12 hrs and 48 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4 out of 5 stars (354 ratings)

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Editorial Reviews

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 laughs—20-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 other—through all the hardship that follows the night in the mill—that makes American Rust well worth the listen. —;Sarah Evans Hogeboom

Publisher's Summary

Set in a beautiful but economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town, American Rust is a novel of the lost American dream and the desperation-as well as the acts of friendship, loyalty, and love-that arise from its loss. From local bars to train yards to prison, it is the story of two young men, bound to the town by family, responsibility, inertia, and the beauty around them, who dream of a future beyond the factories and abandoned homes.

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 07-16-12

A Web of Despair and Desperation

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.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bob
  • Takoma Park, MD, United States
  • 08-18-09

Fighting for survival in hard times

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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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The real deal

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 !

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Cliched

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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

incredibly boring

Any additional comments?

The story seemed really dull and undeveloped, I'm afraid. I'd really enjoyed The Son, and American Rust left me very disappointed by its blandness.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Hidien in the stacks!You will listen and skip work

What made the experience of listening to American Rust the most enjoyable?

This story is gripping. It is about a crime. However, it is far more complex and it is literature. The characters are unique and easily represntitive of 'everyman' in some form or other. They are empathic and flawed. It also beautifully chrnoicles the demise of the steel indsutry and in the midst of the natural beauty of the river valleys of Ohio. The story line keeps burning up the hours to the exclusion of all else. It is reminsenst of American 'road novels' but has the page turning frevor of a best seller trade book. Not clear why it is not at the top of every list.

What did you like best about this story?

I don't know HOW I got fortunate enough to stumble on to this. Superbly well written. Concurrrent characters reveal the story of a mishap or perhaps the expression of two young men's personalities when a murder/accident is committed in

Which character – as performed by Tom Stechschulte – was your favorite?

Issac English, likely considered the hero and protagositt. A moral genisus surrounded by people, friends, family, teachers and commuinty whom are able to shake the malaise of their collective ennui, and the dissipatin brought on my the downturn brought on by the closure of the steelmills. He intuitvely knows the differnence between right and wrong. This distinction is the axis on which the story pivots.

If you could rename American Rust, what would you call it?

Is it ever too late?

Any additional comments?

Promote this book. It is supremlely enjoyable, gripiping and also thought provoking. It is also a pleasure to listen to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Hard to desribe

If you could sum up American Rust in three words, what would they be?

This review includes a spoiler.

Which character – as performed by Tom Stechschulte – was your favorite?

POE

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Prison scene when Poe had to decide whether to beat up the guard. I wondered how he would get out of that.

Any additional comments?

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?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A New American Classic

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Engaging and solid, start to finish

What did you love best about American Rust?

Gritty narrative, excellent depiction of cultural demise.

What did you like best about this story?

The way relatively good people find themselves severely compromised.

Which character – as performed by Tom Stechschulte – was your favorite?

Billy Poe.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Some passages were worth mulling over.

Any additional comments?

A lot of passive verbs. Whatever, I don't write that well...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Daniel
  • Whitestone, NY 11357
  • 05-29-09

modern american rural life

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.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful