Emmett's Reviews > Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Methland by Nick Reding
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Feb 22, 2011

really liked it
Read from February 20 to 21, 2011

Methland is Nick Reding’s portrait of small town America and the devastation resulting from widespread meth addiction in the last three decades. Reding combines profiles of meth combatants and addicts alike with an account of the complex history of the drug. Reding’s invocation of Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley late in the book is indicative of the spirit with which Reding tackles his subject. While he travels far and wide by car to gather information for his story, his focus on the Iowa town of Oelwein is perfect for the tale he seeks to tell: that of middle America. Reding, like Steinbeck before him, shows a strong passion for his country and a desire to tell the untold story. He is openly critical of the mainstream media’s coverage of the “meth epidemic and “the war on meth” which the media more recently declared myth and over respectively. He’s particularly critical of the way in which the media estranges coastal and non-coastal people from each other, and his story achieves its goal of explaining small town America’s plight to those who might otherwise be judgmental and dismissive.
Reding’s most interesting thesis is his perceived correlation between the transformation of the American economy (including an interesting window into the immigration problem the nation currently faces) and the rise of meth abuse among labor populations. The economic focus is on the agricultural sector, a once complex and interdependent agricultural system that has become a booming business controlled by a small amount of vertically integrated companies. Reding is the son of a former VP for Monsanto (a company made infamous by Food Inc. and other sources for patenting a genetic mutation of corn that is immune to its own pesticides) who stops short of crying out leftist conspiracies about big corporations but still makes a convincing case against the harsh and illegal employment tactics of big beef and big agriculture. It’s the harsh working conditions in these plants and factories, he argues, that first got a labor force hooked on the drug’s euphoric, focused, and long lasting high which could get them through the work day. Once the jobs no longer provided a living wage, or ceased to exist altogether, many turned to cooking meth themselves. Reding’s crusade is not against big business. His passion is for the victims of difficult circumstance who had few places to turn in the wake of a fundamental shift in the American and global economy.
One of Reding’s closing statements is the ongoing innermonologue of a journalist whose capacity for empathy is strong. He discusses his own wife’s previous alcohol abuse, and his thankfulness that a drug like meth was not available to her in her dark times. It’s his ability to see his own wife in these destitute drug addicts that gives Reding the ability to tell the complete tale. Some of his characters are able to overcome the meth culture and addiction, but others are not in this, at times hopeful and at times haunting, tale.
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