American Rust is Philipp Meyer's first novel, but you'd never know that from its assured prose and evocative imagery. On a friend's recommendation I picked up the audio version, and I can't quite wait to get back to the car to find out what's going to happen next.
Set in a dying - maybe already dead - steel town in the Mon valley outside of Pittsburgh, the novel follows the lives of two friends, aimless young men who didn't bother to flee town when they had the chance after high school. Considering the trouble they find themselves in, they should have gone to college - one to play football, the other to study science - when they could have. The countryside they traipse through is gorgeous and scenic - and toxic, from chemicals and from people whose lives and souls have dried up and shriveled when the jobs disappeared.
The audiobook is read by Tom Stechschulte, who shocked me about halfway through by pulling out a true, hardcore Pittsburgh accent (in the voice of a waitress one of the boys runs into along the way). Now, a Pittsburgh accent is not easy to identify unless youns know it, but there it was, loud and clear. Once again, I'm struck by how much better a good reader can make a audiobook.
But American Rust would be just as compelling if you were reading it yourself. The book's just out in paperback, too.