07 June 2011

Meth and peanut butter.

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, Nick Reding: Reading this book about the meth epidemic in the rural Midwest, the word that kept coming to mind was "harrowing." And while of course I intend that in the figurative sense, the agricultural setting also made me think of the farm implement that connotation derives from (though I had to look up which big scary machine it was): essentially a mammoth rake dragged over plowed ground to break down and even the land. It's a fitting image for what this drug does to people and communities.

The information in this book is rich and often staggering. For example, while I'd made associations between recreational meth and the Benzedrine used by WWII pilots, I hadn't realized that methamphetamine was legally prescribed for conditions ranging from mild depression to hay fever (I guess because it's a bronchodilator?). The associations Reding draws out between the general decline of rural America and the corresponding rise of meth are illuminating as well--corporate consolidation of meatpacking, for example, cut wages and benefits for workers who found production of the drug to be a much easier way to make a living. His characterization of meth as a quintessentially American drug, due to its ability to artificially ramp up industriousness, is especially sharp.

That said--that it is a book worth reading--I wasn't crazy about Reding's style, which I shall reductively and snottily describe as "New Yorker essay." His intention to microcosm the story in the Iowa town of Oelwein was dashed by digressions--which were necessary, and wouldn't have been digressions at all if he hadn't insisted on its being the Story of Oelwein. And in general, I find it really irritating in journalistic writing when real people are introduced with physical descriptions and then conclusions about their character are drawn from said traits. The book would have been stronger had these tropes been reigned in.

As a counterpoint to all the tweaking and harrowing, I double-fisted Methland with James Kochalka's Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever, a comic book about a kittycat in a necktie (Peanutbutter) whose 50s-sitcom-dad-non-specific office job keeps being thwarted by the antics of a mischievous, hat-stealing crow (Jeremy). But will they become friends? Yes, of course they will! It's adorable, expressively though simply drawn, and appropriate for all ages. Highly recommended as a mood elevator. (By the same author, Pinky & Stinky, about two little pigs on a mission to Pluto who crash-land on the moon, is also charming and whimsical and all those critically devalued but important things. Team Charm & Whimsy, that's me.)

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