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)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.
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)
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 despair 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