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Editorial Reviews

When Tom Stechschulte lures us with his steady voice into the blighted steel town of Buell, Pennsylvania, Isaac English is on his way out. On Isaac's last night in town, he and his best friend Billy Poe meet up in an abandoned steel mill for some drinks, some laughs—20-year-old guy stuff. But what happens to them that night will trap Poe in Buell and send Isaac on the run.
Philipp Meyer's American Rust is a commentary on post-industrial America. Meyer's spare, harsh prose recalls the machismo of Ernest Hemingway and exposes the wounded pride of the men in this story. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and Stechschulte alters his steely, accent-less voice accordingly, but leaves room in each for a common vulnerability, a confessional tone, that keeps the listener interested.
One by one, Meyer presents the possibility for each character's success or happiness. Isaac scored a 1560 on his SATs. Poe received a football scholarship to college. Isaac's dad moves to Indiana for a better paying job. Poe's mom Grace and the sheriff Bud Harris just might make it as a couple. Isaac's sister Leigh made it to Yale.
And one by one, every single character's hopes are diminished, but not by any single devastating incident. Over a long period of time, through overexposure to harsh sunlight and cold, driving rain, we listen as this steel town rusts.
While rust serves in this novel primarily as a metaphor for the atrophy of American industrial society, the listener is also reminded that rust binds metals together. It is indeed the hope that Isaac and Poe have in each other—through all the hardship that follows the night in the mill—that makes American Rust well worth the listen. —;Sarah Evans Hogeboom
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Publisher's Summary

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 train yards 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.
Evoking John Steinbeck's novels of restless lives during the Great Depression, American Rust takes us into the contemporary American heartland at a moment of profound unrest and uncertainty about the future. It is a dark but lucid vision, a moving novel about the bleak realities that battle our desire for transcendence and the power of love and friendship to redeem us.
©2009 Philipp Meyer (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
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Critic Reviews

"Meyer has a thrilling eye for failed dreams and writes uncommonly tense scenes of violence, and in the character of Grace creates a woeful heroine. Fans of Cormac McCarthy or Dennis Lehane will find in Meyer an author worth watching." ( Publishers Weekly)
" American Rust announces the arrival of a gifted new writer — a writer who understands how place and personality and circumstance can converge to create the perfect storm of tragedy." ( The New York Times)
"This bleak but skillful debut novel is both affecting and timely." ( The New Yorker)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Darwin8u on 07-16-12

A Web of Despair and Desperation

Probably 4.5 corroded stars. An amazing first novel that spins a web of despair and desperation set in a degraded rust belt town that is still in the midst of the Fall. It is a novel of hard compromises, silent heros, and people that grind on every day knowing the sun for them will not rise tomorrow. This is a great American novel that narrates the things we all do to survive in a universe that is slowly growing cold. It is written for and about the people we rely on to survive, those we hurt and the people we leave behind.

American Rust is (and this is absolutely not original) like J.D. Salinger's Glass family had been taken from 1940s Manhattan and dropped unceremoniously into a Cormac McCarthy novel. I still can't get over the fact that this was a first novel. Tom Stechschulte delivers an amazing performance in this 3rd person, split-personality narration where almost every character is a jumble of stream of conscious inner monologues.

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23 of 24 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Bob on 08-18-09

Fighting for survival in hard times

This novel combines engaging characters, great atmosphere, insights into sobering socio-economic change, fine writing and a plot that grows more compelling as the story unfolds.
Early on, one fear might be that the whole thing will be just too depressing to stick with. In a dying town in a region where a once great (if cruel) industrial civilization is collapsing (and returning to nature), two young men get themselves into grim trouble. There seems no hope for anyone involved, all of whom seem to be making one bad choice after another.
But the characters, the boys Issac and Billy Poe, Billy's mom Grace, Issac's sister Lee and most especially the sheriff Harris, quickly grow on the listener, and their stories become riveting and make the story well worth hanging with while it's power fully kicks in. What follows is more complex, more surprising and more satisfying than you might expect from the early going.
Some synopses of this novel suggest that there is some heart warming 'us against the world' friendship binding the two mismatched main characters. The reality is far less rosy/cliched but ultimately more believable.
This novel offers a deep and rewarding look at harsh changes in the fortunes of a part of America, propelled by excellent story telling and finely rendered, very real characters. Highly recommended.
The narrator is very good; he reminds me of the superlative Ron McLarty.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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