American Rust

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American Rust
American Rust (Philipp Meyer novel).jpg
First Edition cover
Author Philipp Meyer
Cover artist Matthew Lenning
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fiction, Novel
Publisher Spiegel & Grau
Publication date
24 February 2009
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 367
ISBN 978-0-385-52751-4
LC Class PS3613.E976

American Rust is American writer Philipp Meyer's debut novel, published in 2009. Set in the 2000s, American Rust takes place in the fictional town of Buell in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, which is in a rural region referred to as "the Valley" of dilapidated steel towns. American Rust focuses on the decline of the American middle class, good-paying manufacturing jobs, and the general sense of economic and social malaise of what has become known as the New Gilded Age. Meyer's novel received rave reviews from book critics; many publications ranked it one of the best novels of 2009.

American Rust was published in 2009 in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and The Netherlands (in Dutch); in 2010 it was published (in translation) in France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Israel, Greece, and Serbia.

Writing style[edit]

The structure of American Rust is that of a third person, stream-of-consciousness work influenced, according to Meyer,[1] by writers such as James Joyce, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and James Kelman. Comparisons to other books vary somewhat, but mostly include works by modernist writers. The Baltimore Sun compared the novel to the works of Faulkner. Roger Perkins of The Daily Telegraph, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, and Ron Charles of The Washington Post compared it to the works of Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and J.D. Salinger. Geordie Williamson, head literary critic of The Australian, compared Meyer to Steinbeck in a radio interview, saying "John Steinbeck is alive and well, and his name is Philipp Meyer." [2] Williamson also compared Meyer to Sinclair Lewis and Nathaniel Hawthorne in his printed review of American Rust in The Australian.



American Rust was released to general acclaim from book critics. Michiko Kakutani wrote for The New York Times: "'American Rust' announces the arrival of a gifted new writer — a writer who understands how place and personality and circumstance can converge to create the perfect storm of tragedy."[3] Roger Perkins of The Telegraph called the novel "a terrifically impressive dissection of loyalty and honour."[4] Michael Heaton of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) praised Meyer's "gift for illuminating his tense, grim story with sparse but glittering detail."[5] Vick Mickunas of Dayton Daily News wrote, "Novelists spend entire careers trying to write even one classic book. Philipp Meyer has accomplished that feat on his first attempt."[6]


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Idaho Statesman, The Economist, and Taylor Antrim of The Daily Beast all voted American Rust one of the best novels of 2009.[7][8][9] The novel also won the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction. It was a top-10 choice for The Washington Post, a top-100 choice for the Kansas City Star, and a New York Times Notable Book of 2009.[10] Additionally, it was named one of Newsweek's "Best. Books. Ever." in July 2009.



Isaac English: Nineteen year-old protagonist of American Rust. A recent high school graduate, who, despite his academic potential, does not attend college and has little hope for leaving his hometown or achieving economic mobility. Remains to help care for his elderly father. Resolves to ride the rails to Berkeley, California to become a student of physics with $4,000 stolen from his father's personal savings, though is ultimately unsuccessful and returns to Pennsylvania.

Billy Poe: Twenty-one year-old best friend of Isaac, former high school football star, though he does not share his friend's dedication to academics. Receives an opportunity for an athletic scholarship to play football at Colgate University, though declines. Becomes implicated in murder in self-defense at an old trainer plant as he and Isaac plan to leave Buell in the opening of the novel. Becomes incarcerated, sacrificing himself to allow Isaac to leave his hometown.

Lee English: Isaac's older sister who escapes their hometown to attend Yale University where she feels insecurity due to her social class and where she grew up. Lee lives in Connecticut and is married to the wealthy Simon, who does not appear directly in the novel. She also has an affair with Poe, whom she dated before she was married.

Grace Poe: Billy's mother, forty-one years old, who has an affair with Harris. Works as a seamstress, has a work-related repetitive stress injury in her hands. Fears that her job will be outsourced and that she will be reduced to working a minimum wage job.

Chief Bud Harris: Police chief who investigates the murder committed by Billy and Isaac and has an old relationship with Billy's mother Grace.

Steve Ho: Policeman and Harris's partner

Henry English: Father of Isaac and Lee. Old, sick, and wheelchair-ridden. Commits suicide at the conclusion of the novel to relieve Isaac the burden of taking care of him and to allow Isaac to leave his hometown.

Film adaptation[edit]

Universal Studios has planned a film adaptation of the novel, with Walter Salles set to direct.[11]


  1. ^ ABC Radio National "Off the Shelf" June 16, 2009
  2. ^ ABC radio interview, Deborah Cameron with Geordie Williamson, April 2009
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (2009-02-26). "‘American Rust’ by Philipp Meyer: Friends Sidelined in a Small Industrial Town". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  4. ^ Perkins, Roger (May 24, 2009). "American Rust by Philipp Meyer: a review". The Telegraph. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  5. ^ Heaton, Michael (March 18, 2009). "Is 'American Rust' the new Great American Novel? A conversation with author Philipp Meyer". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  6. ^ Mickunas, Vick (June 9, 2013). "So how can Philipp Meyer top 'American Rust'?". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  7. ^ Hoover, Bob (December 27, 2009). "Best books of 2009". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Books of the Year: page-turners (2009)". The Economist. December 3, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Our Favorite Books of 2009". The Daily Beast. December 22, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2015. 
  10. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2009 - The New York Times". Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  11. ^ "American Rust". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-01-28.