American Rust by Philipp Meyer has been described as a mix of The Grapes of Wrath and The Catcher in the Rye. American Rust, I believe, captures what is best about each of these classic American novels. I was mesmerized by The Grapes of Wrath's description of American life and hardships in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and appreciated how powerful it was to learn about that time within the context of fictional characters and their families. American Rust does the same, but in a modern day Pennsylvania steel town caught in the throes of a major economic downtown. The faltering economy has forced the factories to close and the town's unemployment to skyrocket.
Each chapter in American Rust is told from a different character's point of view, which allows the reader to feel the economy's impact on different areas of the population. What I loved about The Catcher in the Rye is Holden Caulfield's voice, and how he deals as a young man with conflicting feelings of anger, love, sexuality, rebellion, responsibility, alienation, etc.. The two protagonists of American Rust are young men who both held a lot of promise: one for his academic abilities and the other for his prowess on the football field. For various reasons, each gave up his dream of a different life in order to stay in the hometown, which holds nothing for them. Throughout the novel, each character undergoes an internal struggle involving some of the same issues that Holden Caulfield deals with in Catcher.
American Rust begins when one of the protagonists decides to leave home after having stolen several thousand dollars from his father and convinces the other boy to join him and start a new life in California. Shortly after their journey begins, however, a traumatic event changes everything for them, forever. These reads like an Important Book, without being inaccessible. A movie adaptation is currently in the works. 4 out of 4 Bananas!