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Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains Hardcover – 1 September 2020

4.4 out of 5 stars 274 ratings

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Review

*Finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Best First Book
*Winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

“Combining personal history with investigative reporting, Arsenault pays loving homage to her family’s tight-knit Maine town even as she examines the cancers that have stricken so many residents.”―The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“Part beautiful memoir and regional history, part investigative journalism, part environmental diatribe countered by a poetic ode to place. In short, it’s a fraught love letter to that fragile American entity, the small, rural, working-class town….Arsenault’s prose shines…She has done immense and important research and delivered an engaging tale that deserves a close read.”―Stephanie Hunt, The Post and Courier (Charleston)

“Trenchant and aching…What Arsenault has provided is a model of persistence, thoughtful reflection and vividly human personal narrative in uncovering a heartbreaking story that could be told in countless American towns, along countless American rivers.”―Steve Paul, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Arsenault combines memoir with investigative journalism in this tale of the toxic paper mill at the center of her Maine hometown, an area now nicknamed Cancer Valley.”―People magazine

“Though you assume another hand-wringing over environmental deregulation, what unspools is much richer and more affecting. Using her father’s death as catalyst, [Arsenault] digs into state history, the town’s decline and the mill’s legacy. She brings the outrage of a furious native, tearing down years of “Vacationland” tourism, yet deeply homesick for the place she once knew. What gave her hometown its meaning once―industry, deregulation, community―is precisely what devoured it.”―Christopher Borrelli, The Chicago Tribune

Mill Town is preoccupied with a poisonous irony: Rumford’s citizens live and work in a place that makes them unwell… The scale of the problem and of the potential malfeasance could not be grander or more terrifying.”―Emily Cooke, The New York Times Book Review

“With affection and concern, Mill Town recounts ‘Maine’s constant conundrum, an American story, a human predicament.' In rural, working-class towns, the presence of industry amounts to pollution, but its absence gives way to poverty. Within fence-line communities like Arsenault’s Mexico, prosperity and affliction are wholly intertwined.”―Andru Okun, The Boston Globe

Mill Town poses hard questions that challenge the tacit acceptance of ecological destruction as the price of economic health.”―Los Angeles Times

“Lyrical and compelling prose... What Arsenault presents, with mesmerizing lyricism and endearing honesty, is the story of a dying town wedded to a paper mill that once anchored the local economy while also bringing pollution and cancer. Mill Town puts forth larger questions of the human relationship to the environment; of the violence done to the land that eventually translates into the devastation of the people that live on it. Arsenault’s loyalty is not simply to a limited idea of health that would be typified by paying the ailing damages but on the injustice done to the land on a larger scale.”―Rafia Zakaria, The Baffler

“A valuable addition to the literature of New England’s industrial legacy, something many residents have either forgotten or choose to ignore, to the region’s detriment.”―Alex Hanson, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Reportage, memoir, and the refusal to seek easy answers clasp hands to bring us a searing, compassionate story of people rooted in and committed to a place that keeps breaking their bodies and hearts…With love and sorrow, wed by eloquent prose that moves with keen pacing, Arsenault traces the story of her family and the many families who have been battered along with their despoiled environment. This book is an essential answer to the urgent question: “At what cost comes progress?”―Garnette Cadogan, LitHub

Mill Town is a rich, rewarding read that defies easy categorization. Despite the gravity of its subject, Mill Town is, at its heart, a love letter to the people and places of Arsenault’s childhood and a plea for a cleaner, brighter future.”―Jessica Lahey, Air Mail

“In this masterful debut, the author creates a crisp, eloquent hybrid of atmospheric memoir and searing exposé... Bittersweet memories and a long-buried atrocity combine for a heartfelt, unflinching, striking narrative combination.”―Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“[A] powerful, investigative memoir....Arsenault paints a soul-crushing portrait of a place that’s suffered 'the smell of death and suffering' almost since its creation. This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home--"the heart of human identity"--is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment.” ―Publisher's Weekly (starred)

“Arsenault's compelling debut asks readers to consider how relationships between humans and nature impact our bodies and environment....[A] powerful memoir.”―Library Journal

“An imposing work of narrative nonfiction...Arsenault's account is enlivened by vivid prose, often coolly analytical and yet deeply lyrical. Mexico's melancholy story--one that's mirrored today in thousands of struggling small towns across the U.S.--comes to life in Arsenault's sympathetic, but unfailingly clear-eyed, telling.”―Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness

“Clear-eyed and self-deprecating, Arsenault is a welcome guide through the history of Mexico and Rumford, capturing the voices of their inhabitants, the stories they tell and the confidences they keep. She is tenacious in her search for answers, tender in her interactions with her mother and their neighbors. A riveting blend of reportage and memoir reveals the secrets of a paper mill town.”―Michael Berry, Maine Sunday Telegram

“For stretches, it is pure memoir – and first-rate memoir at that….In other places, the book is a compelling and taut work of industrial investigation [and] Arsenault is meticulous in her research. Mill Town is haunting and heartbreaking, charming and funny … and utterly exceptional.”―Alan Adams, The Maine Edge

About the Author

KERRI ARSENAULT is the Book Review Editor at Orion magazine, and Contributing Editor at Lithub. Arsenault received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and studied in Malmö University’s Communication for Development master’s programme. Her writing has appeared in Freeman’s, Lithub, Oprah.com, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune, among other publications. She lives in New England. Mill Town is her first book.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ St. Martin's Press (1 September 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1250155932
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1250155931
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 522 g
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 16.46 x 3.12 x 24.28 cm
  • Country of Origin ‏ : ‎ USA
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 out of 5 stars 274 ratings

Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5
274 global ratings
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Gwen Tuinman
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
Reviewed in Canada on 7 December 2020
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A. MacIsaac
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written voyage of personal, professional and community discovery
Reviewed in the United States on 2 September 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars A well written voyage of personal, professional and community discovery
Reviewed in the United States on 2 September 2020
Ask me to describe the smell of money and I will reply, like rotten eggs with a degree of heaviness in the air that makes you think you could chew it. Like Kerri Arsenault I grew up in Mexico, Maine the town across the river from the paper mill that dominates life, the economy, and the environment in the River Valley. Kerri’s book Mill Town is not a family narrative but rather a well-written dialogue along a voyage of personal and professional discovery that should cause all readers to question just what the price of progress is.

Should we be willing to accept higher levels of cancer and other illnesses that affect friends and family, the selling of water resources, and the long-lasting effects of industrial production (in Mexico’s case papermaking) on the land, and the people who live there? My parents still live in Mexico and it was the salary my father earned from his computer job at the mill that fed, housed, and clothed me and my nine siblings. The mill provided the money needed to support our family, but as Kerri eloquently writes it was not always clear that we as a community had all the information to understand the longer-term consequences on our health and well-being. Then again it was not something that the people of Rumford / Mexico ever really questioned. Kerri writes about a local doctor and a Boston based TV news show called “Cancer Valley” that highlights some of the risks faced by those who did question the effects of the looming mill across the river.

The people of the River Valley are a proud and hardworking lot as is Kerri because she is one of them. They are however wary of those from away, even those who were raised there, but have moved away. The exchange in the book that Kerri has with a former teammate who exclaims “don’t make us look like red necks,” is insightful and telling of the risk Kerri undertook in writing about her hometown. Kerri does not make the people of the River Valley look like rednecks’ because they are not, but she does, at least in my case make me want to understand and question more about the legacy of progress. This is a compelling and thought-provoking book that anyone who is interested in understanding the effect of industry on, history, people, and the land should read.
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Courtney
2.0 out of 5 stars Clinical & Uninspiring
Reviewed in the United States on 2 September 2020
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32 people found this helpful
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Daniel Clohossey
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely tale of corporate greed ruining small-town lives and the environment
Reviewed in the United States on 12 September 2020
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16 people found this helpful
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Maura Finkelstein
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a beautiful and brilliant book....
Reviewed in the United States on 12 September 2020
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11 people found this helpful
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