American Rust by Philipp Meyer

american-rustAmerican Rust: A Novel by Philipp Meyer (Spiegel & Grau, February 24, 2009), 384 pages

From Amazon:

Set in a beautiful but economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town, American Rust is a novel of the lost American dream and the desperation — as well as the acts of friendship, loyalty, and love — that arise from its loss. From local bars to trainyards to prison, it is the story of two young men, bound to the town by family, responsibility, inertia, and the beauty around them, who dream of a future beyond the factories and abandoned homes.

Left alone to care for his aging father after his mother commits suicide and his sister escapes to Yale, Isaac English longs for a life beyond his hometown. But when he finally sets out to leave for good, accompanied by his temperamental best friend, former high school football star Billy Poe, they are caught up in a terrible act of violence that changes their lives forever.

In the first chapter, I was excited about this book. Kind of a modern-day Depression tale. I’ve been really interested in Depression-era stories for about the last year, so that was thrilling to me. Aspects of the book seemed to kind of flow into everyday philosophical conversations with friends. But then the narrative shifted. Or, rather, it heaped on other aims.

At one point, pretty early on, I felt that Meyer was trying too hard with this debut. The chapters are written from the perspectives of the various characters, and the writing style changes from one to the next. This is nice, but there are some perspectives I didn’t really appreciate, especially early on. Also, at some points, the stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences get distracting.

American Rust is tragic, dark. On some level it’s a study in relative morality (This is the best part, for me, although it’s still sad.). It is crass. The book has lots of sex (and it’s never a married couple engaging).

This book didn’t have lessons or answers for the modern reader that I was hoping for. Instead, it had bad choice after bad choice after bad choice.

The author’s website.

Other (mostly nicer) reviews:
The Book Lady’s Blog
The Bluestocking Society
Rose City Reader


16 responses to “American Rust by Philipp Meyer

  1. Thanks for the link! I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like this one very much. I enjoyed it, but you make some good points.

  2. I’m about 40 pages from the end of American Rust and I think my review will probably closely agree with yours. The book is not bad by any means, but what is with the change in many of Isaac’s chapters (and some of Lee’s) between 3rd and 2nd person narrative? Or how Isaac thinks of himself in 3rd person, calling himself ‘the kid’? I’m positive Meyer did this for a reason but to me it came off, as you said, as trying to hard.

  3. sounds like not your cup of tea. how disappointing.

  4. I did think the book had subtle lessons–about loyalty, and about trying to escape problems by running away or burying them, rather than confronting them.

    I can see where the narrative would be distracting–at times I did find it tough going, but I always felt it was worth the work. Sorry that wasn’t true for you.

    • I can’t really argue about the presence of the subtle lessons you mention; I guess I was looking for bigger things, more big-picture solutions?

      • Yeah, I understand what you mean. I like things subtle–if it’s too obvious I start rolling my eyes. But I know I’m in the minority there!

        • Oh, I guess I wasn’t clear. I appreciate subtlety! Trying again: I wanted bigger, more important (less obvious?) lessons than loyalty to friends and you can’t escape by hiding. Those seem so simple and straightforward (this isn’t YA, after all) that I almost have a hard time calling them lessons at all — the book’s readers should already know those things. Does that make sense?

          • Makes sense, yeah. I guess the bigger picture to me was how the state of the steel industry impacts these characters and the whole culture of that area. That’s not really a lesson, though–more of a theme.

  5. Pingback: Words from my reading IV « Word Lily

  6. Hmm, not sure I want to read that one. Thanks for the review.

  7. I hadn’t heard of this book, but I may look it up now. I’m partial to debut novels. I also love novels that put the questions out there and don’t try to offer answers at all, so perhaps I would enjoy this one more than you did. But I’m sorry you didn’t! It’s always a bummer to finish a book wishing you had read something else instead.

    Thanks for your review! — I found it via Semicolon.

  8. I am not a fan of stream of consciousness, but many reviewers have really liked this. So I’m going to give it a chance. I will remember to employ the 50 page rule if it’s not working for me though.

  9. I recently read & reviewed this as well, altho I seemed to enjoy it better than you did, unfortunately. Maybe it helps to hail FROM a small, dying steel town; I thought the characters and their actions/re-actions to be very honest (sad, but true.)

  10. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: March 21, 2009 at Semicolon

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  12. Bad choice after bad choice — that about sums it up!

    Good review. My review is here:

    If you want me to post a link to your review, please leave a comment on mine. I don’t like to link without permission unless I’m already blogger buddies with the reviewer. 🙂

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