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'American Rust': Dying Towns And Dreams Deferred

Buell, Pa., the setting of Philipp Meyer's debut novel, American Rust, isn't real, but it might seem familiar. Modeled on the manufacturing towns in the Northeast, the fictional city was a thriving middle class community until the steel industry went under — and took the town with it.

"What fascinated me was how we as a society — as Americans — deal with the folks who get left behind when these jobs go overseas," Meyer tells Jacki Lyden.

Meyer knows a thing or two about cities in decline: He grew up the child of academics in a blue-collar neighborhood of Baltimore after the city's industrial heyday had passed. He read books and acted like an intellectual at home, but felt he had to suppress that part of himself when he went out into his rough-and-tumble neighborhood — where, he says, a man was nearly beaten to death in front of his house.

Meyer says that the current economic crisis is making the problems of places like Buell more commonplace: "Broader society has begun to suffer through what blue-collar folks have been suffering through for the last 25 years in terms of a loss of options, a worry about being laid off, a worry that you won't be able to pay your bills next month or next year," he says.

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