Sunday, April 25, 2010

Meth in the Midwest

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This author clearly did a lot of research for this book, including many, many in-person interviews and on-the-spot observation. And the information is good and many of the insights he draws from it are valid. His goal is to tell the story of meth's rise in rural America and around the country, using Oelwein, Iowa, as his main case study and microcosm of the whole picture. But except for when he's telling stories of specific individuals, his writing style and his inability to avoid the stereotyping of small, Midwestern towns and their residents make this a kind of infuriating read.

He also does some serious over-reaching in terms of trying to place the significance of his material. Sars over at Tomato Nation is dead on in that respect:

But the thing that effs it all up for me is the tangly, overwrought sentences he uses when he's trying for significance and the unnecessary "othering" of his subjects. For instance, he's forever telling us what the local call things, as though it's an exotic practice. "The police station or 'cop shop' as it's called." "The Hub City Bakery, or what is referred to the regulars as simply 'the Bakery.'" Yes, how strange that the only bakery in town would just be called "the bakery." Shut! Up!

But then he confuses me by genuinely getting to know several main players -- a young prosecutor, a town doctor, former and not-so-former addicts, the mayor -- and telling their stories in a compelling way that includes an obvious affection and a level of complexity that shows respect for them and their lives. And his analysis of public policy issues, the changing nature of the drug trade and its players, and the role of the rural economies and large corporations all seems well researched and sound.

I guess what I find so infuriating about this book is that it would have been relatively simple for a competent editor to correct it's flaws. A few cuts and a bit of rewriting, and it would have been really outstanding. Makes me so mad!

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