American Rust by Philipp Meyer is another one of those novels that some people will rave about enthusiastically. As for me? Unfortunately, not so much.
The novel takes place in Buell, Pennsylvania, where the steel mill closed in '87. The story principally concerns two young men in their yearly 20s, Isaac English and Billy Pope. Issac: Mother dead by suicide. Sister escapes to Yale, and then married life, while Issac, a math whiz, has been at home in Buell taking care of his aging, ill father. Issac's friend Billy is former high school football star. Billy had opportunities to go to college, blew them off, can't hold a job, and is now living with his mom in a trailer.
When the story starts, Isaac is ready to leave Buell to try and find a place where he can go to college and start living some of his dreams. Accompanied by Billy on his way out of town, the guys get into a jam, which ultimately results in one of them being arrested. In the remainder of the book, various characters work through the consequences of the arrest.
As I read American Rust, I waited for the author to put some literary 'magic' into the story, and lift it up into something more than its somewhat stereotypical characters and grim elements of loss and disappointment. In my opinion, that touch of craft and art that makes a difficult story one that is also magical to read just didn't happen here, and in the end this book just didn't work for me.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
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