Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: American Rust by Philipp Meyer (& a Giveaway)

It was like this all up and down the river and many of the young people, the way they accepted their lack of prospects, it was like watching sparks die in the night.
[excerpt from American Rust]

American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Spiegel & Grau, 2009
ISBN #978-0385527521
Fiction; 369 pgs

It's quite an endorsement when several book bloggers include a book on their top ten list of the year. American Rust was one such book in 2009. My interest in the book began before that, but, admittedly, became heightened even more as a result. Not everyone has been enamored by the book, however, which isn't all that unusual. I don't think I've ever come across a book that everyone liked.

Isaac English wants only to leave his hometown. After the death of his mother and his sister's escape to college, he is left to care for his disabled father. He is extremely intelligent and could have had his pick of colleges to attend, only the obligation of taking care of his father had set in--that and his strong desire to please his distant father. Billy Poe, Isaac's unlikely best friend, is a former high school football star. Poe has a penchant for finding trouble and a temper to boot. He never backs down from a fight.

Isaac is finally striking out on his own and his friend agrees to accompany him to the outskirts of town. The weather forces them to seek shelter, and it is there where their lives, and those around them, are irrevocably changed through an act of violence, a death. One will leave town and one will face trial for murder, all the while not knowing the other's fate. Their families will look inward and blame themselves.

My father grew up in Pennsylvania. Not in a steel town, but a small town nonetheless. It has seen many ups and downs over the years. Businesses have come and gone, people too. It is not thriving as it once was. Work is harder to find. My grandmother still lives there, but her children and their children have moved on. It's a beautiful place, full of trees, rolling hills, and wild life that a city gal like me can only dream of. While my grandmother's town is not as bad off as the Valley described in Meyer's novel, I still couldn't help but think of it as I read.

The beauty of American Rust is twofold. It is in the setting, in the landscape. Philipp Meyer's descriptions of a financially devastated and eroding community in Pennsylvania paints a very real and vivid picture of our times. Many of the residents in the community are hanging on by a thread. The steel mills that had once made the area thrive are now in ruins and the community around it has long been suffering as a result. The author holds nothing back in describing the poverty and conditions of the Valley, the hardships of sleeping on the streets, nor of the violent and tenuous conditions inside the prison system. Given the state of many American cities today, the economic hardships facing communities, the novel seems all the more fitting in this day and age.

Then there are the characters. The novel follows several characters throughout the novel, allowing the reader a close look at the thought processes and feelings of each of them. There is Isaac and Poe, the two young men whose story sets the stage for the novel; Grace, Poe's mother, who is lost and struggling to find her way; Bud Harris, the sheriff, a man who has always looked out for Poe, even when he shouldn't, all for the sake of Grace; Lee, Isaac's sister who is ever practical but has emotional baggage of her own; and Henry English, Isaac and Lee's dad, who is afraid of being alone. This format drew out the isolation each character felt and made their desperation stand out all the more. Their pain and guilt and feelings of helplessness were all very real, their resilience astounding. In getting this across, the author succeeded. Yet I felt somehow distant from the characters. I cared about them, sure. Wanted to know how the events in the novel would play out, and hoped for the best, but, still, something was missing. Something I can't quite put my finger on.

The story itself is complex. The situations the characters find themselves in and the choices they make are wrapped in moral ambiguity. These choices have consequences and the reader can clearly see the ripple effect of such decisions, including those made long past and the choices made near the end. Life is not black and white. The choices we make and their consequences are not isolated to only that moment. American Rust is a reminder of that.

American Rust is a strong debut for author Philipp Meyer. I liked the author's writing style and the way he framed the story. My overall emotion while reading the novel was one of hopelessness and sadness. There were times when I grew frustrated with the characters, willing them to make wiser choices, yet knowing they wouldn't because of who they are. While the novel does hold out some hope, however, small, it is a dark novel and will likely not appeal to everyone. It is well worth reading, however, if you are willing to take a chance on it.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Philipp Meyer and his book on the author's website and on the American Rust Face Book Page. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Source: Many thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for the copy of this book and the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Philipp Meyer's TLC Tour Stops:
Tuesday, January 19th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, January 20th: A Circle of Books
Thursday, January 21st: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books
Tuesday, January 26th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, January 28th: Ready When You Are, CB
Tuesday, February 2nd: Rough Edges
Thursday, February 4th: Bibliophile by the Sea
Monday, February 8th: Bibliofreak
Tuesday, February 9th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Thursday, February 11th: The 3 R’s Blog
Friday, February 12th: Beth Fish Reads

Are you interested in a chance to win a copy of Philipp Meyer's American Rust? Well, here is your chance! The publisher has graciously offered to give away one copy to a lucky reader of Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

To Enter:
  • Leave a comment below and tell me why you want to read American Rust.
  • Be sure and include your e-mail address if it is not easily visible from your website/blog.
  • The publisher's copy are only open to those who reside in the U.S. or Canada (no P.O. Boxes please).
  • I have 1 hardback copy of my own (read once) available for giveaway to one of my international readers (it is important that you tell me if you are outside of the U.S. and Canada s0 I can enter your name in the proper random drawing).
  • The deadline to enter is January 25th at 11:59 p.m. PST. The winners will be chosen at random through and the winners will be notified by e-mail. The winners names will be posted below once they are determined.
Good luck!

**Giveaway Closed**

The winners were chosen randomly through The winners of the American Rust Giveaway are:

Laura from Musings
Alice from Hello, My Name is Alice


Thank you to all who entered the giveaway and left comments.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. What a lovely review! I'm adding this to my list. The characters sound intriguing, but I understand about sometimes feeling distant from the characters, even when you care about them.

  2. Please enter me in the giveaway! I'm interested in reading this book for two reasons: 1) your review was excellent! 2) I live in Pennsylvania and while I'm not near the steel towns, the town nearest my house is one of those once-thriving places that has fallen by the wayside ... similar to the setting in American Rust.

  3. No need to enter me in the giveaway -- I am really looking forward to this one!

  4. Your review is almost like a challenge: Can I figure out why the characters seem distant!

    Your review is excellent! I always enjoy my little trip into your brain!

    I live in a former paper mill town. Two years ago it went bankrupt and hundreds of men and women found themselves out of work. I think I would identify with this novel.

  5. I'm one of those people who didn't love this book (I read it early last year).

  6. Your review makes me really interested in reading this one. I hadn't even heard of it before today, but I'd definitely like to read it, so please count me in!


  7. I haven't heard of this book until I read your review, Wendy. You've written a wonderful review and it really makes me want to read this book!

    I'd love to win a copy of this book (international). :)

  8. Where have I been hiding that I missed this amazing debut novel?! While I was unfamiliar with it 5 minutes ago, I have decided that I absolutely must read it based on your review.

    I went to school in Pennsylvania, and while Gettysburg is not in the steel towns, we did have to pass through them while driving to and from school.

    I think I would like to read the book as it would somewhat nastalgiac of those days, but also I think reading about their lives might help me put my own life in perspective.

    I would very much like to be entered in the giveaway.
    Mstermind1 at gmail dot com

    PS --- How is Anya today???

  9. This book does sound rather bleak, so I'm glad there's a thread of hope as well. Great review!

  10. Glad to see you finally got this read and enjoyed it, bleakness and all. You've got a nice fancy cover there, too, compared to the plain one I got last year! Don't enter me, just commenting.

  11. What an excellent review, Wendy!! I am hanging my head down in shame as I state that this is actually a new title to me, lol. I somethings think I live under a rock. It sounds like an awesome story though and I would love to read it! The cover is very "reach out and grab you by the heart" also.

  12. I have given you an award!

  13. Wendy, thanks for an excellent, extremely detailed and well thought out review! I'm reading Am Rust now and I'm on the other side, very much loving it. I think because the place is so familiar to me and the people seem so real. My hub grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania (coal mining, not steel), also in a once thriving town that has deteriorated to a place where the young people feel the need to flee.

    Thanks so much, Wendy, for all the time and effort you put in to reading and reviewing American Rust. We really appreciate it.

  14. No need to enter me in the giveaway, since I'm also on this tour and will be reading this book next! (BTW, it's my choice for the 20-Minute Book Club discussion segment when I'm on That's How I Blog! in May.)

    I've been intrigued by this book for awhile and am especially looking forward to reading it now. Thanks for an enlightening review, as always, Wendy!

  15. I'm intrigued by your review and feel that this book is very timely considering everything that is happening economically in this country right now. I'm adding it to my TBR pile.

  16. Hi Wendy, I'd like to be entered for the International Giveaway. Thanks for doing this.

    AMERICAN RUST appeals to me because I'm always interested in reading about strong characters and how the choices they make will affect their lives. I've gone through life making choices that has shaped the way I live today. Even right now, I am making a decision that will affect my future. I'm not sure how it will all pan out but I only hope for the best. The uncertainty. The consequences. It sure feels like my whole life is going through such motions. Yep, even now.

    So when I read what you wrote: These choices have consequences and the reader can clearly see the ripple effect of such decisions, including those made long past and the choices made near the end. Life is not black and white. The choices we make and their consequences are not isolated to only that moment. American Rust is a reminder of that., I just knew I HAVE to read this book.

    Another thing, reading new authors is something I delight in! :D

    Thanks again, Wendy!

  17. Wendy... great review! I am not sure I've heard anything about this book before, but it sounds excellent! As always your reviews are wonderfully done. Please enter me into the contest.

  18. I have read reviews about this book on other web sites and it sounds like a winner to me.
    Please count me in on this giveaway.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed your review. Makes me want to read it more. I have had this book on my wish list for a while.

    Thanks for the chance.

  20. I've got this one to read next month. Good to know that I won't regret agreeing to read it!

  21. Wendy..I have the book so please don't enter me in the drawing. I enjoyed your review and references to the Pennsylvania setting. I lived in PA for a short while when I was youner. One reason why I wanted to read this one. Glad you liked it.

  22. I am also participating in the tour on Feb. 18th. I have about 50 pages to go for this book. It packs an emotional punch, that's for sure. Great Review!

  23. **Giveaway Closed**

    The winners were chosen randomly through The winners of the American Rust Giveaway are:

    Laura from Musings

    Alice from Hello, My Name is Alice


    Thank you to all who entered the giveaway and left comments.


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