Saturday, February 27, 2010

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town -- Nick Reding -------- 3.5 Stars

Recently I finished the eye-opening Methland by a young author named Nick Redding. This book was the most recent pick in the occasionally (but far more often lately) visited book club that I belong to. As you can probably gather from the title, it's a book about crystal meth and it's affect on America. What's pretty cool about this book was the way Redding tells the story of meth through the story of people.

Often books that deal with more 'academic' topics are told through dry, nondescript texts. One of the real joys of reading Methland was Redding's ability to really tell a story about people's lives which then provides the fodder to allow him to make whatever insights necessary to explain the problem of Meth in America. His story is about a dozen individuals living in Iowa and how their lives are affected daily by the prevalence of crystal meth in society. Their stories are rich, characters are well textured and the themes multi-tiered. Trust me that it's easy as a reader to relate/feel for the characters which makes it easy to follow and care for their stories.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the book, which his well described characters help make the reader readily understand, is how incredibly significant and unfortunate the current meth problem is in America. In a lucky stroke of coincidence for me, less than two months before starting this book, I began (and just finished) watching the AMC drama Breaking Bad. For those not in the know, Breaking Bad, is an incredibly well acted drama about a chemistry teachers exploits into the crystal meth production and selling world (simply awesome show -- go check it out or at least watch the new episodes starting in March). Although fictional, like Methland, the stories of Meth and it's affect on an average user is pretty overwhelming.

Redding often assesses and offers his opinion about the meth epidemic after telling one story or another. One of his major themes is the relationship between meth's positive usage consequence -- energy and strength to work hours and hours at one time and one underlying American 'value' we hold -- the ability to be disciplined and hard worker. Ironic that a drug that so many Americans find 'evil' allows people to fulfill the very societal values we find most pivotal.

This 'positive' consequence of meth (working for hours) also happens to be biggest explanation for WHO ends up using the drug. Often, the meth user will be someone from a poor or meager household who will do anything to try to get ahead. Redding writes about this relationship convincingly and often and concludes that much of the meth usage is on the rise because the changes in our economy and especially the effect of that change in rural areas.

Another fascinating theme was Redding's description of simply how easy it is to produce the drug, both on a small and large scale level. He repeatedly shows people who can literally make the drug while riding a bike all the way up to the high level dealers making some of the purest type of meth possible. What's bizarre about meth, however, is that all of the ingredients can be purchased legally. This, perhaps more than any other precondition, is the biggest reason for meth's popularity and exponential growth of usage in America in the past decade.

Redding delivers a number of other noteworthy points and even includes some well received (by me) suggestions about solutions to this bewildering problem. You can read the book to find out the specifics, but I'll give you a hint that the reasons for the problem involve corporate greed and the continued need to keep political power (i.e. big business/government).

Overall, I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who either has an interest in the meth epidemic and it's affect on average Americans or people who want to get a real feel for how meth changes and ruins lives. Most of the stories in this book are not uplifting and more than once you can't help but feel that it's an unsolvable problem. Nonetheless, to learn about how meth came to it's current prominence, while at the same time, looking for ways to correct this problem and save lives captivate the reader's experience.

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