Re-blog: A Rust Belt Story Retold, Through Portraits Of The Women Who Lived It

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Grandma Ruby and Me, 2005, from The Notion of Family (Aperture, 2014).
by LaToya Ruby Frazier; photo courtesy of npr.org

LaToya Ruby Frazier grew up in Braddock [Pennsylvania]. She’s a photographer who’s been taking pictures of her hometown for two decades, and she says that neither of [the common narratives of this place–as the birthplace of steel or a Rust Belt town revitalized] represent the Braddock she knows. Her Braddock is primarily black, primarily female and primarily poor.

I hope you’ll check out this eye-opening piece about a Rust Belt photographer, who provides an alternative view of the Mon Valley (former steel industry center, outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to the one featured in the novel, American Rust.

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/05/13/401331744/a-rust-belt-story-retold-through-portraits-of-the-women-who-lived-it

 

 

AMERICAN RUST, restless ruin: a book review

9781742374772American Rust by Philipp Meyer, reviewed.

Ah, America. Rags to riches. Dream fulfilled country, right?

Nope.

Without spoiling too terribly much, this is not that book. This is not romance.

American Lit. nerd time-out: in his Criticism and Fiction, realist writer of the 1800s, William Dean Howells, argued that a story where “all grows naturally out of character and conditions is the supreme form of fiction.” Down with the sentimentality of romantic fiction! Realism was best suited to express the spirit of America. Then, real got real-er, and naturalist writers like Theodore Dreiser and Jack London showed what happens when natural forces overwhelm us silly humans.

American Rust is real-natural in that way. And I like it. Realism has always appealed to this Rust Belt native for whom romantic lit. often feels at best, false, and at worst, dangerous.

For me, this debut novel’s strengths are in the real and natural way Philipp Meyer’s dark story grows out of the ruinous conditions of its modern Appalachian Pennsylvania setting: post-industry, post steel money, post employment, though still (or again) naturally beautiful.

This is a story of two very different young men from the same place. Isaac is small, awkward, and MIT-smart; Billy is handsome and strong, a former high school football star. One night, the friends get caught up in/perpetrate an act of terrible violence, just as restless Isaac has decided he must head to Stanford to put his genius to work. Post-crime, Isaac makes good on his promise to leave their hometown, and Billy stays. Each man suffers for his decision, Isaac on the road and in train yards where lawlessness reigns, and Billy in prison. The men’s families become entangled in the tragedy, as does the local police chief, Harris, who must weigh his job as a lawman against his love for Billy’s mother, Grace. All suffer in the aftermath of one violent mistake.

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