October 30, 2009


Reding, Nick, Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009) (“In truth, all drugs epidemics are only in part about the drugs. Meth is indeed uniquely suited to Middle America, through this is only tangentially related to the idea that it can be made in the sink. The rise of the meth epidemic was built largely on economic policies, political decisions, and the recent development of American cultural history. Meth’s basic components lie equally in the action of government lobbyists, long-term trends in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, and the effects of globalization and free trade. Along the way meth charts the fears that people have and the vulnerabilities they feel, both as individuals and as communities. The truly singular aspect of meth’s attractiveness is that since it first wide-scale abuse—among soldiers during World War II—meth has been associated with hard work. For seventy years, the drug more commonly referred to as crank has been the choice of the American working class. It’s in this way more than any other that that the story of meth is the story of Oelwein, Iowa, along with that of Roland Jarvis and Tim Gilson and Jeremy Logan. It is also the story of the remarkable, even heroic lengths to which people and communities will go in order to fix themselves.” Id. at 16. “In another way, though, many of the towns of the rural United States are quite disconnected from the rest of the nation. Poverty rates are higher, fewer people have achieved secondary levels of education, and substance abuse is far more prevalent than in urban America. It’s worth noting that the reason your dinner moves an average of fifteen hundred miles to get from its source to your plate is because the source—or sources, really—is determined by companies like Tyson and Cargill and ConAgra based on where they can pay the cheapest labor costs. Barnett posits that when one piece is no longer part of the system—that is, when it is disengaged from the standard rules—everyone is vulnerable. Oelwein may look very different from Independence, but Oelwein’s problems nonetheless affects its neighbors. Oelwein’s vulnerabilities are Iowa’s vulnerabilities, and America’s.” Id. at 207-208. See Walter Kirn’s review, “Wasted Land,” NYT, Sunday, July 5, 2009.).