Book Review: Mill Town Reckons with Past, Present, and Future of Small Town
The small town of Mexico, Maine once revolved around a booming paper mill, the town's main source of employment. With nearly every person in town finding a job in the mill — including three generations of Kerri Arsenault's family — it was a staple in the small community.
Arsenault remembers a happy childhood, but many years later after moving away, she is aware of the price that she — and everyone in the town — paid for that idyllic life and community. Although the mill served as the main source of economic and social glue that held their town together, it was also responsible for their ultimate demise.
The mill contributed greatly to destruction of the surrounding environment, but also caused the steady decline in the physical and emotional health of the town, earning the area the nickname "Cancer Valley." Arsenault's retrospective examination of divergence between her happy childhood and what remains shows the great love she had for what was, but also the great cost at which it came.
Utilizing historical archives and scientific reports alongside interviews with family and neighbors from the town, Arsenault reveals a wider picture of the rise and fall of the working-class American, the toxicity of doing what it takes to thrive by any means possible, and ultimately asks and answers the question: What are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? — Ally Kutz
St. Martin's Press // 368 pages // Nonfiction, Memoir