Archive Authors Book Reviews E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Book Notes: Methland

(This is not a full review. It is a brief series of summary thoughts.)

Anyone who has a desire to understand the nexus of forces that conspired to create rural and small-town middle America as we know it (or as we pretend not to know it)–that part of the country, “fly-over country,” alternately ignored and marginalized by coastal captains of culture1l–will find Methland of interest.

In the book, Nick Reding chronicles the ups and downs of Oelwein, IA, a town of less than 10,000 people that was ravaged by widespread use of methamphetamine in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. The reign of meth in middle America was facilitated by a combination of economic change, corporatist consolidation in the food industry, poverty, Big Pharma, monied lobbyists, governmental complicity, despair, American self-image and self-idealization, lack of opportunity, neglect of responsibility, and sin (though Reding leaves this last out of his account). One will also receive confirmation that everything–absolutely everything–bad that comes our way comes from California.2

The writing is sometimes decent, sometimes so-so. The characters are sometimes finely drawn,3 sometimes less so. The scenes are sometimes powerful, occasionally shockingly so. But, literary merits aside and regardless of their evaluation, the main thrust of the book is worth the attention of those who live in or care about the rural Midwest (but I speak tautologically, I fear).4

  1. And therefore also, and not coincidentally, by religious entrepreneurs as well
  2. I include that remark only as a (half-facetious) needle for some of our readers. Can’t Midwesterners return the “favor” to which we’re subjected by the coasts once every harvest moon or so?
  3. The reader may be shocked to learn that one of the sisters of the comedian Tom Arnold was a meth kingpin (“queenpin”?) in Iowa for years and first made the California connection that brought imported meth to the Midwest.
  4. There is nothing “Christian” about this book, except in so far as it deals with reality–something in which Christians should always be interested.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.