Tuesday, February 09, 2010

American Rust


American Rust by Philipp Meyer. 2009. Random House. 384 pages.

Isaac's mother was dead five years but he hadn't stopped thinking about her.

There's a good chance you'll like this one more than I did. American Rust is the story of a small American town gone wrong. Plagued with economic problems, Isaac and the other characters in Philipp Meyer's American Rust struggle. And struggle. And struggle. They struggle with how to survive. They struggle with how to make ends meet. They struggle to thrive. Because thriving in the midst of their problems, their woes, is almost impossible. They struggle to just cope another day. It's a dark novel that raises more than a few moral and ethical questions.

All the things you needed to know in life--you didn't learn them until you'd already made your decisions. For better and worse you were shaped by the people around you. (188)

It was his own choices. They never felt like choices while he was making them, but nonetheless they were. It was nice to think it was a vast conspiracy of others but the truth was something different. (111)

There were certain places and certain people who mattered a lot more than others. Not a single dime was being spent to rebuild Buell. (45)
As I said, you might like this one more than I did. Isaac English and his friend, Billy Poe, stumble into trouble in the opening chapter of American Rust. Decisions are made--in the moment--that set them both on a very difficult journey. Things are set in motion that are not easily undone. Bad things. This isn't just the story of a tangled, messy friendship. It's the story of a broken community. We meet many of these "broken" people throughout the novel. Many of them firsthand. Because American Rust is a novel that shifts narrators. A lot. I think this is where I struggled as a reader.

I don't always enjoy books with multiple narrators. The more narrators a book has, the messier it can be. I don't know if "messy" is quite the right word. But "confusing" doesn't seem right either. Because it's not so much that this story is hard to follow. It isn't. It's just that with the focus shifting back and forth so very much, it's hard for my focus to stay in place. I was slow to realize the point of this one. What seems so obvious in retrospect. I was expecting this book to be about something. To be a bit more plot-driven perhaps?! I don't know. What this novel does is focus on humanity, on the emotional side of things, the uncomfortable places that despaBlockquoteir and unhappiness and worry can lead us. It's about feeling hopeless, feeling stuck, trapped. It is a book about something, that something just happens to be choices and consequences and regrets.

Another place I struggled as a reader was the characterization. I had a really hard time liking the characters. Especially Isaac English and Billy Poe. (Though of the two, I liked Billy better.) If I had to choose a favorite narrator, I'd probably go with Grace, Billy's mother. But just because I didn't like the characters doesn't mean they weren't well-crafted. One reason I didn't like them may just be that these characters didn't like themselves. Neither Billy or Isaac liked themselves. Both were unhappy. Both were miserable.

I think some readers--especially those who love modern literature, adult literature--will appreciate this one. It focuses more on the darker side of humanity, the dark places of the soul where anger, bitterness, despair dwell and multiply.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 comments:

LisaMM 1:12 PM  

Hi Becky, Well, shoot. This wasn't for you. However, I think your review is actually quite good and very well thought out. People are on opposite sides of the fence with this book.. I'm one of the readers who thought it was amazing- but I do see what you're saying about the despair and hopelessness- very true.

Thank you so much for all the time you put into reading and reviewing American Rust. We really appreciate it. I just wish it had been a better fit!

Emma Hox 8:32 PM  

Thanks for another great review.

Sandra 9:26 PM  

I enjoyed your review, I have an ARC of this book. Your thoughts haven't put me off reading it at all, I'm even more curious to see what I will think now. It's always nice to see an honest review.

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I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
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4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
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