In lieu of a traditional review of Philipp Meyer's American Rust, and with thanks to Suey of the Weekly Geeks team for the suggestion, today I'll be "interviewing" one of the book's protagonists.
Set in a part of Pennsylvania that's devastated by the demise of local steel mills, American Rust follows multiple protagonists through a murder and its aftermath. With so many points of view, it was hard to choose who to interview--I was drawn to each of them, thanks to Meyer's spot-on characterization and stream-of-consciousness writing style. But I had a particular soft spot for a troubled young man named Billy Poe.
Ali: Billy, let's stick to talking about the beginning of the book, because I don't want to run the risk of giving anything away to people who haven't read it yet. Meyer kept me guessing until the very last pages.
Billy: Yeah me too. Christ I never knew if Chief Harris had it in for me or what, and then Isaac, half the time I didn't know where he was. Didn't know where I was myself half the time.
Ali: You were certainly unpredictable! In fact, one of the things I liked most was reading your thought process as you grappled with some tough decisions and situations. You changed the plan, sometimes, from one sentence to the next.
Speaking of decisions, let's talk about Isaac. Your loyalty to him molded everything you did in the book, didn't it?
Billy: Loyalty, you could call it loyalty I guess. Isaac's a good man, better man than me. Not as strong maybe but tougher in a way. Smarter. Should have been gone from this town ages ago. Me too but that's different, that was me freezing up, everyone telling me to go to Colgate not giving me time to think it through. Isaac stuck around to take care of his old man--you know his old man was crippled, right?
Ali: Yeah, I read the book.
Billy: Oh, right, forgot that's all in the book. Don't read much myself. Leave that to you smart folks. Writers, teachers, book bloggers, reading all the time. Reading through day and night, through the cold of winter and the heat of summer when the light reflects on the creek, the sun shining through the leaves and their nose is in a book. Think I'll take a walk, come to think of it. Get out in nature, get some exercise, clear my head. No, stay here and do this interview thing, that's good for you too. Make you think about things different maybe. There'll be time for a walk later.
Ali: Glad we got that settled. So, I'm thinking that your loyalty to Isaac, and his sister Lee's lack of loyalty to you, are connected. Do you think so?
Billy: Me and Lee were never serious. Just fun and games. She didn't owe me a thing. Could have told me when she got married, though. Could have at least told me that. Not that it'd make a difference but it would have been better to hear it from her.
Ali: Yeah, sorry about that, but I guess she was trying to move on--which is another big theme in the book, right? Every character is trying to escape in one way or another--sometimes with disastrous consequences. Do you think Philipp Meyer was trying to show how Americans have gotten locked into a self-destructive way of life?
Billy: I think we all just kept screwing up.
Ali: I guess that's one way of looking at it.
Billy: Maybe you should have interviewed Isaac, he's the smart one.
Ali: No, Billy, you did just fine. Would you like to choose a song to go with this book?
Billy: Anything but Faith Hill I hate that new country shit. How about some Springsteen? My Hometown.
Ali: Perfect. My Hometown it is.
American Rust is also reviewed by Wordlily.