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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Review: Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault

Kerri's hometown of Mexico, Maine, is the titular mill town. It has a paper mill factory where her father worked and her grandfather before him. It's also where they both died of cancer. Like most people in town. And if you don't get cancer, it's something else horrific and rare, like aplastic anemia.

Kerri left home long ago and has lived all over the world. But when she resettles in the US and spends time with her parents both before and after her father's terrible death, she starts to see what a blight the mill is on the town and the people. And she begins to investigate.

It's not too shocking anymore what she uncovers--mishandled toxic waste, regulations skirted or flouted, misdiagnoses by the company doctors, and whistle blowers run out of town. But for once this story is being told by an insider (although the locals no longer claim her, as she's moved away.) This isn't a full-scale investigation as it's also a memoir. Many of the mill workers, insiders, and whistle blowers, are her childhood friends and neighbors. And she remembers was a boon the mill was back in the day. She loved her hometown, before the rot began to show. In that, this is an appropriately complex story of how one can appreciate the dream and plans of the original mill founders, and she can understand the current locals who are protective and defensive of their jobs and the backbone of the community. And yet, she wants to protect them. But it could come at the cost of their livlihood. Sadly, this is a story with no happy ending. But an important one nonetheless.

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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