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American Rust: A Novel [Paperback]

Philipp Meyer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 12 2010 Random House Reader's Circle
The debut novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Son

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.

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.

Newsweek's list of "Best. Books. Ever"
A Washington Post Top Ten Book of 2009
A New York Times Notable Book of 2009
An Economist Best Book of 2009
A Kansas City Star Top 100 book of 2009
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Best Books of 2009
Idaho Statesman's Best Books of 2009

Frequently Bought Together

American Rust: A Novel + The Son + The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
Price For All Three: CDN$ 45.34

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Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: Buell, Pennsylvania lies in ruins, a dying--if not already dead--steel town, where even the lush surrounding country seethes with concealed industrial toxins. When Isaac English and Billy Poe--a pair of high-school friends straight out of Steinbeck--embark on a starry-eyed cross-country escape to California, a violent encounter with a trio of transients leaves one dead, prying the lid off a rusted can of failed hope and small-town secrets. American Rust is Philipp Meyer's first novel, and his taut, direct prose strikes the perfect tone for this kaleidoscope of fractured dreams, elevating a book that otherwise might be relentlessly dour to the level of honest and unflinching storytelling. (Interestingly, Meyer has a fan in Patricia Cornwell, who name-checked American Rust in Scarpetta, even though Meyer's book hadn't been released yet.) --Jon Foro --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Praise for American Rust

“A novel as splendidly crafted and original as any written in recent decades, American Rust is both darkly disturbing and richly compelling. Philipp Meyer’s first novel signals the arrival of a new voice in American letters.”—Patricia Cornwell, author of Scarpetta

“With its strong narrative engine and understated social insight, American Rust is reminiscent of the best of Robert Stone and Russell Banks. Author Philipp Meyer locates the heart of his working class characters without false sentiment or condescension, and their world is artfully described. An extraordinary, compelling novel from a major talent.”—George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround

“This is strong, clean stuff. Philipp Meyer deserves to be taken seriously.”—Pete Dexter, author of Paper Trails

“Philipp Meyer's American Rust is written with considerable dramatic intensity and pace. It manages an emotional accuracy, a deep and detailed conviction in its depiction of character. It also captures a sense of a menacing society, a wider world in the throes of decay and self-destruction.”—Colm Tóibín, author of The Master

“Meyer has a thrilling eye for failed dreams and writes uncommonly tense scenes of violence . . . Fans of Cormac McCarthy or Dennis Lehane will find in Meyer an author worth watching.”—Publishers Weekly

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous! Jan. 22 2009
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Set in a small dying former steel mill town in Pennsylvania, this is the story of two young men (20yrs old). Issac, who is called the smartest person in town except for maybe his sister and had been expected to go straight to college after high school. But his mother dies, his father is in a crippling accident at work and his sister leaves for an ivy league school 3 months after their mother's death, leaving him to stay with his father. The other is Poe, the legendary high school football player who could have gotten a football scholarship to any college but had always been a bad apple and had no interest in doing any more school, even if it was on a scholarship.

These two boys are strangely enough best friends, each other's only real friend to be exact and one day there lives and those around them are changed forever. Within the first chapter Issac decides he's hung around long enough, takes his father's four thousand dollars of savings and leaves to head to California to go to school. Along the way he meets Poe who doesn't want to come with him, but agrees to walk to the city limits with him. They spend the night in the abandoned steel mill and three homeless men arrive. Issac knows this is not going to be good and he tries to get Poe's attention and says he's going out for a leak. Poe knows what Issac is up to but he's in the mood for a fight. Issac hears a scream, some thuds and more noises that sound like Poe. He enters through the back door to find his friend, Poe, being held at knife point while another man is obviously about to go at him. Isaac picks up a large iron ball bearing and pitches it across the room hitting the man square in the face and obviously killing him. This is how the story opens.
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For those who've read them, I found Phillip Meyer a combination of Russell Banks and Richard Ford. Except for his first novel, Mr. Ford did not write about topics of a violent nature however his characters were very cerebral always thinking through their actions once, twice , many times to the point where I found his last book, Lay of the Land, pretty much unreadable. Russell Banks, writes about violence and, more specifically, about violence in the same part of the part of the United States that Mr. Meyer writes about. What makes Phillip Meyer different is that he writes about a very similar violence to Russell Banks however in a more intellectual, cogitative manner. To facilitate his cogitation, two of his characters possess near genius intellect. They are the offspring of a factory worker who lost his job at metal factory when the car makers of the world began looking to Japan and Germany for their high grade steel. The factory worker moves to Indiana in pursuit of work and is badly injured. His daughter moves away to pursue further education. His wife kills herself, and his son, Isaac, who should be going to the same institution as his sister stays at home care for his paraplegic father. The son's best friend, Poe, was the high school football star however turned down the scholarships he was offered to remain at home and the dead-end place his town has now become. Enter three bums who Poe and Isaac meet in one of the many abandoned factories that dot the local landscape. Poe, being his ever irascible self starts a fight and one of the bums is killed and so, the conflict which will drive the rest of the plot which will provide insights about how the people of the area have lost hope and, with hope, direction. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars In the Tradition of American Realism March 28 2009
Books like this just aren't written much these days. "American Rust" is as the book jacket describes a throwback to the American tradition of John Steinbeck. The writing to me is reminiscent of a Theodore Dreiser novel. American realism set in the contemporary context.

The characters are very well developed and the dialogue is sharp and believable. The plot is simple, yet allows for the characters to exhibit a considerable degree of flexibility. Meyer explores the economic decline, but still rich culture of small-town factory life. In this way, "American Rust" is similar to the Great Depression novels of Steinbeck.

Ultimately though, I think the ending doesn't fit with the realist style of the rest of the novel. Such a simplistic and optimistic ending feels contrived and doesn't do justice to the job Meyer has done in painting his dark picture of a dying town. It's just not believable and betrays the novel's foundational message.

Despite the ending, I think "American Rust" is well worth the read. A terrific novel about life in America's manufacturing heartland.
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