Monday, February 22, 2010

Philipp Meyer's American Rust (2009)

I finished American Rust on Saturday. This is a fantastic book -- a 9.5 out of 10.

Meyer writes in a style that I love. There are plenty of descriptions of scene and detail, but they do not get so in-depth that you lose yourself trying to get through a paragraph. The focus is on characters: their thoughts, emotions and actions.

The story takes place in rural Pennsylvania (and along the rails, when Isaac English leaves his hometown of Buell) in the present. Meyer paints as vivid a depiction of a community -- of place -- of anything I have read in a while. It's a combination of the physical geography and the emotional lives of the people. It's powerful stuff.

The protagonists are Isaac and his best friend Billy Poe. Both of them live deep in their own minds, but at age 19/20 this struck me as very real (goodness knows I was deep in mine). They think lots about the deep stuff: the meaning of life and how you can keep it meaningful with the reality of death. Family is central to both of them, though they struggle with the shape of their relationships and the nature of obligation to parents and siblings. They also deal with the divides in life's paths - the daily ones and the bigger ones, and how we choose which way to go. And a major theme throughout the book, which Meyer just nails in the inner-thought descriptions, is what sorts of things make us human: what remains at the core when the smaller things fall away?

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