Sunday, December 10, 2017

Kruse's Keys: Read "American Rust" To Feel the Decline of American Steel-Making (in your very bones)

NOTE: I listened to this novel as an audiobook during my daily commute so I don’t have as many notes as I'd like to.

I first encountered Meyer’s writing back in 2015 by way of S.C. Gwynne’s incredible Empire of the Summer Moon. His story of Quanah Parker, the offspring of a kidnapped white woman and a Comanche, who went on to become one to become one of the greatest native American warriors of all time led me to Meyer’s The Son (now an AMC mini-series).  Meyer’s well-researched piece of Texas history (well, historical fiction) has a central character that is kidnapped by Indians as a child.
All that to say, The Son was so well written that I was eager to read anything else written by Meyer.  That led me to Meyer’s first novel, American Rust,  which reads like a sorrowful swan song to the American rust belt.  The story brings to light the consequences of the steel industry’s death as the reader is drawn into the lives of several families and their struggle to love, survive, and escape.  The narrative centers in on the plight of Billy Poe, a driftless, could-have-been, washed up former high school football star, and Isaac, an unmoored genius who struggles to escape the gravity of his impoverished circumstances.  Throw in a little murder and a love triangle and you have a story you won’t soon forget.  My only critique is that I wished Meyer had wrapped up the story a little more neatly but we can leave that for the eventual movie version.

Key Quotes:
  • You ought to be able to grow up in a place and not have to get the hell out of it when you turn eighteen.”
  • “this is what it means to get old, you don’t look forward to pleasure so much as easing pain.”
  • “Same as what they taught you as a lifeguard- you have to save yourself before you can save anyone else. ”
  • “And one day...there would be no record, nothing left standing, to show that anything had ever been built in America. It was going to cause big problems, he didn't know how but he felt it. You could not have a country, not this big, that didn't make things for itself. There would be ramifications eventually.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Lee English is the one character that escapes the gravity of the town and graduates from Yale University, later marrying into a wealthy family. In commenting on her cohort of acquaintances in colleges she comments that most of them will never experience the feeling on wanting something and never getting it. She views this as a weakness but it's also seeded in the bitterness of her own background where that's the central feeling that most people experience (Chapter 5, 33:08 in the audiobook).
  • The soul and society crushing reality of losing a skilled steel-making job and no longer having something that you're good at (Chapter 14, 06:16).
  • The idea that rich people view the world the same way as someone with brain damage--they don't understand the realities of life (Chapter 20, 18:55).

Key References:
What You Do Out Here When You're Alone: short story by Philipp Meyer

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