by Weston Cutter
So: how many books have you read this summer? Not enough? Never enough.
Massive apologies for the signal silence: Corduroy Books is back now, full-speed + full-power, etc.
For those keeping score at home: a friend recently had a poem picked by Kim Addonizio for inclusion in Best New Poets 2009, which book/series I’m more than a little fond of, and which news is just awesome. Congrats, Megan.
So much (hugely deserved) praise got heaped so quick on this book that I can’t imagine anyone’s just now stumbling onto it through our small but well-read site, here. If you haven’t heard all the news, haven’t flipped across radio and picked up an interview with good ol’ NReding, the skinny’s that Reding, several years ago, decamped regularly in Oelwein, IA (in the northeast region of the state; ten minutes from Independence, IA, if that helps) and studied, basically, the relationship between meth and the sort of small, midwest town meth preys on as viciously as any virus.
Oelwein’s got the usual troubles—’compromised systems’ might be the way to say it, to try to make a medical analogy more thorough—which allow meth to take such ferocious hold. The medical analogy would have to be that meth could be considered akin to pneumonia to an AIDS patient: AIDS itself doesn’t, technically, kill, but simply makes infection infinitely more probable and more lethal by orders of magnitude. Meth has had the life that it’s had—so virulently infecting midwest towns—because of social/cultural and business-practice shifts in the last two decades or so.
So, for instance, in Oelwein: a chicken processing plant got bought out, then changed hands several times, until it eventually employed some slivery fraction of the workers it’d once employed, plus those workers got paid thin drizzle compared to what they’d once made. In towns of size, the numbers work out and the impact of such trouble is spread moore out; in small towns (Oelwein’s like 6700 strong), the numbers devastate. Enter meth: as the pick-me-up drug (meth is just speed, though hellaciously toxic, at least as its presently, black-marketly made) of choice for those workers desperate to pull double shifts to keep some money coming; as the new occupation of choice for those who’d rather risk life/limb/legality by concocting this explosive compound than straight-man it through a new, overworked life.
The story itself—small (David) town against the huge (Goliath) brutality of this drug—is fascinating; Reding actually makes it one better by focusing on 4 key players: the town doctor, the mayor, the lawyer, and the most infamous meth user. I won’t say anything more about any of them other than that if you love the book, it’ll almost certainly be because of the vivid and human and humane and gut-wrenchingly working folks at the story’s center. Read Methland. Seriously. As soon as possible.