Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town (Review)

July 30, 2010

Book cover for "Methland" by Nick Reding.Title: Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Author: Nick Reding

Narrator: Mark Boyett

Publication Year: 2009

Pages: 288 (audio length: 9 hours 25 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook purchased from Audible

From the cover:

The dramatic story of the methamphetamine epidemic as it sweeps the American heartland — a timely, moving, very human account of one community’s attempt to battle its way to a brighter future.

Crystal methamphetamine is widely considered to be the most dangerous drug in the world, and nowhere is that more true than in the small towns of the American heartland.

Methland tells the story of Oelwein, Iowa (pop. 6,159), which, like thousands of other small towns across the country, has been left in the dust by the consolidation of the agricultural industry, a depressed local economy, and an out-migration of people. As if this weren’t enough to deal with, an incredibly cheap, longlasting, and highly addictive drug has rolled into town.

Over a period of four years, journalist Nick Reding brings us into the heart of Oelwein through a cast of intimately drawn characters, including: Clay Hallburg, the town doctor, who fights meth even as he struggles with his own alcoholism; Nathan Lein, the town prosecutor, whose caseload is filled almost exclusively with meth-related crime; and Jeff Rohrick, a meth addict, still trying to kick the habit after twenty years.

Tracing the connections between the lives touched by the drug and the global forces that set the stage for the epidemic, Methland offers a vital and unique perspective on a pressing contemporary tragedy.

This book absolutely blew my socks off.

Did y’all know about this and weren’t telling me? I mean, I remember some brouhaha about changing the drug packaging of and composition of Sudafed when I was a teenager, but I really don’t think that I understood why.

I definitely understand better now, even if not completely. Reding manages to paint a very vivid picture of the problems associated with the “meth epidemic” in the United States, particularly in small communities. Methland introduces us to a variety of people affected by it, including addicts, “cooks”, police officers, doctors, city officials, and town business owners. I wasn’t sure at first that this tactic would work – almost the whole books is told in pieces that bring together his interviews and observations regarding certain key characters and key towns, including Oelwein – but Reding really pulled it off. I really felt like I “knew” the characters and could feel their hopes, dreams, and disappointments. It was a brilliant way to make the reader connect with the book.

While I don’t agree with Reding’s argument that the “meth epidemic” is largely to be blamed on large businesses and farms in small towns closing down or no longer making money, it was definitely an interesting point of view and has something to contribute to the concept as a whole.

Besides that little bit, I was enthralled by Methland in its entirety! The story, the flow, the people … it was all great. This production was actually rather fantastic, too, largely because of the narrator. Boyett’s voice had that gravelly, smoker’s feel to it, which was both seductive and calming, especially hard to do given the subject matter. I really felt as though he was sitting there with me, just telling a story, which is really what audiobooks are about for me – being “read to”.

Three thumbs up, if I had that many.

Rating:

5 Comments

  • debp July 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

    It sounds like a really good book. For a while, I had a meth lab right next door to me. I live in a middle class,quiet neighbor. We also had 2 policeman living on the block. And I live 10 houses away from 2 schools. It was terrifying.
    Did you know that China supplies most of the ingredients to the bigger makers of meth? No one ever seems to discuss that.
    I will have to put this book on my TBR list.

  • Amy August 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Sounds like a great book, it is definitely going on my wishlist.

  • zibilee August 1, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Meth is a seriously scary drug, not only in it’s addictive properties, but in it’s very creation. I am glad this was such an interesting read for you. I am going to have to give this one a try.

  • erisian23 August 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    it is a shame that illicit home made drugs had to ruin that for the rest of us. over the counter sudafed was some of the best stuff you could take for a cold.

    need to go to work, feel less like warmed over crap and survive the day? sudafed….

    • Carina August 8, 2010 at 12:43 am

      I know, sudafed was my lifesaver a lot of times before they changed the formulation. 🙁

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