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Archive: Other Books > American Rust by Philipp Meyer - 5 stars

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Joy D | 3233 comments American Rust by Philipp Meyer - 5 stars

Steel plants have closed, and jobs lost in the Monongahela Valley, Pennsylvania, where this novel takes place. Poverty, violence, drugs, boredom, and desperation are prevalent. Former steel plant structures stand abandoned in the overgrowth. Two unlikely friends, Isaac (the smart but awkward kid) and Billy (the football jock) have stayed in their small town after graduation, missing their chance to go to college. Isaac has been taking care of his invalid father after his mother’s suicide. His sister has already escaped to college and marriage. He decides to leave and asks Billy to come with him. They approach an abandoned building, where a man will be killed, and their lives forever altered. It is a story of staying vs. leaving, fear vs. bravery, selfishness vs. altruism.

The writing style took me a bit of time to assimilate. It is quasi-stream-of-consciousness, as if the reader is in the head of six characters, thinking along with them, which proves to be a very effective method of characterization. Each character sees a portion of the greater story from a personal perspective, none having access to the entire picture. In addition to Isaac and Billy, the story is told from the perspectives of Grace (Billy’s mother), Henry (Isaac’s father), Lee (Isaac’s sister), and Harris (the chief of police of their town who has been involved with Grace). The novel is more character-driven than plot-driven, but there is a plot, and the tension is built through this limited perspective of each character, gradually revealing to the reader what has happened. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell this story.

These are flawed but decent people, often making poor decisions and facing the fallout. They are confronted with moral dilemmas and must choose their actions when the stakes are high. This book explores the questions of what lengths a person will go to protect a friend or loved one, and whether a person should save oneself or someone else at the risk of personal safety. It touches on questions of personal dignity, inner strength, and integrity. How much are an individual’s actions are driven by social, mental, or physical fear, and should they be? I questioned a couple of plot points, but in the end, I became so invested in these characters that it didn’t matter. The ending is not tidied up and is left for the reader to imagine but offers hope for the characters of the story and, more importantly, for humankind. This book is the author’s debut and I look forward to reading more of his work. Highly recommended.

Link to My GR Review


message 2: by Meli (new) - added it

Meli (melihooker) | 3168 comments I get notifications every time someone posts a review but I don't read all of them (just too many), but this caught my attention because of the title and I assumed it was about the rust belt, which it sounds like it is and I lived in a part of the rust belt previously.

Anyway, glad I clicked this.
Sounds like an interesting story and I love a good character driven, human condition type story.

Thanks for sharing!


Tracy (tstan) | 1182 comments I liked this when I read it, too. It is timeless, and reminded me of Steinbeck.


message 4: by Meli (new) - added it

Meli (melihooker) | 3168 comments Tracy wrote: "I liked this when I read it, too. It is timeless, and reminded me of Steinbeck."

Looking at some of the other reviews it looks like the prose could be quite polarizing, but I will add it to the TBR.


Joy D | 3233 comments Meli wrote: "I get notifications every time someone posts a review but I don't read all of them (just too many), but this caught my attention because of the title and I assumed it was about the rust belt, which..."
Thanks! I was avoiding the term, but it is about that part of the country. You have described it perfectly. It is definitely a "character driven, human condition type story."


message 6: by Joy D (last edited Apr 16, 2019 04:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy D | 3233 comments Tracy wrote: "I liked this when I read it, too. It is timeless, and reminded me of Steinbeck."

Glad you enjoyed it too. I used to read lots of Steinbeck when I was younger and I agree it is similar and, as in many Steinbeck novels, it involves a journey!


message 7: by Joy D (last edited Apr 16, 2019 04:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy D | 3233 comments Meli wrote: "Looking at some of the other reviews it looks like the prose could be quite polarizing, but I will add it to the TBR."

I didn't read many of the other reviews, but I think the stream-of-consciousness could be off-putting to some readers. I don't usually enjoy that technique but thought it worked beautifully here, used in describing thoughts. How many of us think in complete sentences? It reminded me a bit of Faulkner, but not as extreme and without the dialect to add to the confusion. Hope you enjoy it, Meli!


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