Published by Spiegel & Grau on February 24th 2009
Genres/Lists: Fiction, 1001 Books
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Raw and gritty are the two words that come to mind when I think about American Rust, the debut novel by Phillip Meyer that came out in 2009. Taking place in Buell, Pennsylvania, a steel town that saw its mills shut down and its workers fleeing, it is not a happy story. It is an important one, though, for it highlights the plight of mill workers in small town America who saw their way of life derailed by shifting economic conditions. It’s been hailed as a Great American Novel and made it on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, which is no small feat for a debut author who wasn’t planning on a writing career.
The story is mostly about two young twenty-something boys, Isaac and Billy. Both were at the top of their game in high school, Isaac academically and Billy athletically, and the town has high hopes for both of them. Circumstances dictated otherwise, and the book begins with Isaac’s desire to seek out more for his life than living in his rundown town. Once again, the boys’ plans are altered, this time by a single violent act that will irrevocably change the lives of both of them. Told through the eyes of six characters that are deeply involved in the boys’ lives, American Rust tells a three-dimensional story of friendship, loyalty, and desperation. Each perspective has its own distinct tone, adding to the richness of the story itself.
In American Rust, Meyer paints a sweeping and realistic picture of a community that is simply struggling to get by the best way they know how, with the good, the bad, and the ugly. No stone is unturned and the reader is left feeling both like they want to visit Buell or a stay far away from it. It’s easy to see why this one made the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List. (Plus, he mentions the Prisoner’s Dilemma and uses a few other policy keywords, which is always a bonus for me!)
Recommended for: Someone who’s not afraid of a book without tidy endings and appreciates sentences like this:
There was something particularly American about it – blaming yourself for bad luck – that resistance to seeing your life as affected by social forces, a tendency to attribute larger problems to individual behavior.”