Mill Town: Book summary and reviews of Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault

Mill Town

Reckoning with What Remains

by Kerri Arsenault

Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault X
Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault
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Book Summary

A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and a moral wake-up call that asks: what are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Kerri Arsenault grew up in the rural working class town of Mexico, Maine. For over 100 years the community orbited around a paper mill that employs most townspeople, including three generations of Arsenault's own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for that seemingly secure childhood. The mill, while providing livelihoods for nearly everyone, also contributed to the destruction of the environment and the decline of the town's economic, moral, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname "Cancer Valley."

In Mill Town, Arsenault undertakes an excavation of a collective past, sifting through historical archives and scientific reports, talking to family and neighbors, and examining her own childhood to present a portrait of a community that illuminates not only the ruin of her hometown and the collapse of the working-class of America, but also the hazards of both living in and leaving home, and the silences we are all afraid to violate. In exquisite prose, Arsenault explores the corruption of bodies: the human body, bodies of water, and governmental bodies, and what it's like to come from a place you love but doesn't always love you back.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In this powerful investigative memoir, book critic Arsenault examines her relationship with Mexico, Maine, her now-downtrodden hometown...This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home—'the heart of human identity'—is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Arsenault] writes urgently about the dire effects the mill's toxic legacy had on Mexico's residents and the area's ecology while evocatively mining the emotional landscape of caretaking for aging parents and rediscovering the roots of her childhood...Bittersweet memories and a long-buried atrocity combine for a heartfelt, unflinching, striking narrative combination." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"This story will resonate with readers grappling with similar crises in their hometowns and is a recommended addition to memoir collections." - Library Journal

"In Mill Town, Kerri Arsenault has managed a literary hat track, combining humanity, science, and capitalism, and the price paid not only by her own family in a single state, but across generations, industries, and geographies. She has laid out, in elegant prose and harrowing reportage, the price we may all pay, and in this, she has managed to create at once both a cautionary tale and a literary treasure." - Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us

"[Mill Town] is about the better, more prosperous American life those industries afforded us before we fell ill, as well as the Devil's bargain that made all this possible, maybe even inevitable. Mill Town is for anyone who's ever wondered about the Calvinistic calculus whereby the elect become truly wealthy while the damned (read: poor, dark-skinned, newly arrived) find early graves." - Richard Russo, author of Chances Are… and Empire Falls

"Mill Town is a powerful, blistering, devastating book. Kerri Arsenault is both a graceful writer and a grieving daughter in search of answers and ultimately, justice. In telling the story of the town where generations of her family have lived and died, she raises important and timely questions." - Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

"The book of a lifetime; a deep-drilling, quick-moving, heartbreaking story. Scathing and tender, it is written in a clear-running prose that lifts often into poetry, but comes down hard when it must. Through it all runs the river of Mill Town: sluggish, ancient, dangerous, freighted with America's sins. This is a book about residues and legacies; I know that Mill Town will stay with me for years to come." - Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

"Kerri Arsenault's pursuit of truth is as compassionate as it is relentless. The result, her book, is tender, enthralling, and, ultimately, devastating." - Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn

This information about Mill Town shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Kerri Arsenault

Kerri Arsenault serves on the board of the National Books Critics Circle, 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 program. 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.

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