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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 to 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 her 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, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.” Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?


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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 to 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 her 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, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.” Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

30 review for Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Wagner

    This book has more layers than an onion. Layers that telescope from what happens inside one girl's growing up journey, inside her family, inside one city, one region, and bigger into our culture and our country and corporate personhood and the consequences of that to our lives and the environment that sustains them. Overall this book contains not only a very thick, nostalgic retrospective, but also a condemnation of our collective complacency toward being taken advantage of by the all-too-often This book has more layers than an onion. Layers that telescope from what happens inside one girl's growing up journey, inside her family, inside one city, one region, and bigger into our culture and our country and corporate personhood and the consequences of that to our lives and the environment that sustains them. Overall this book contains not only a very thick, nostalgic retrospective, but also a condemnation of our collective complacency toward being taken advantage of by the all-too-often faceless powers that be. It's a chilling clarity that this book provides: we're already so committed to giving ourselves away to corporations and the capitalism engine in exchange for our usually paltry paychecks, that we no longer have energy left to defend the rights of others even more vulnerable than ourselves. Thereby we all lose; we are all plundered for our deliverables. At one point the author compares a former lunatic asylum at which patients were disposed of in unmarked graves now forgotten to history (which now houses the Maine Department of Environmental Protection) to her hometown, saying "We've a long history of stockpiling the unwanted in such institutions or landscapes of no relevance or concern: prisons, homeless camps, Section 9 housing, or small industrial towns." Provocative! And timely. The preschool-to-prison pipeline is healthy and well in this nation, with healthy side-quests of opioids, alcohol, or overwork also on standby for the less advantaged. Some of the consequences of this complacency are playing out the long game over generations. Industrial pollution, in particular, is insidious in its creeping inevitability. Toxins continue to accrue. No one is appointed with the power to advocate for those who live in affected regions. The folks who believe they are doing good, solid work, staying out of trouble, graduating their kids from high school and retiring from honest jobs, are meanwhile taking on unsustainable levels of the stuff manifesting in physical ailments, many deadly. Many of these people are clinging to any perceived advantage. Many of them clung to a desperate hope that led them to vote Trump in 2016, and are now saddled with all the associated connotations of that. Regarding this tainted cloud of malign industrial corporate interests raining down on small towns across America, the author says, "Updates to those less glamorous crimes are stalled in agencies across the world, working their way slowly to the top of the inbox, just as slowly as toxics work their way up our food chain from groundwater, to sheep, to Parmesan cheese. The news is that it's not news because such people and landscapes drift in the peripheries where its hard to see or where we don't bother to look, in isolated places of no tenable or fiscal concern. Such quiet tragedies only flicker in the headlines, which makes their consequences hard to pin down and difficult to voice. And voice is the very thing absented, invisible like the people themselves. " The human mind can't grasp the scale of the corruption and pollution our greed and capitalist gods have wrought. The consequences are made human scale here -- a father, a son, spaghetti dinner benefits to pay for cancer treatment. Here's the thing. I grew up in a mill town. It was no big deal to drive down to Lakeside and smell "the paper mill smell". We all knew what it was, and we all respected it as an important part of our town's character. "The Heights" used to be a true uptown, a thriving place. Everything's crumbling now, and there are attempts to rebuild with hipsterish businesses like microbreweries. The paper mill's gone, but... As of January 2003 in Muskegon County, there were 55 active areas designated as Act 451 Part 201 sites. Of these sites, 8 are on the Superfund or National Priority List. I have no idea what this means to my family. I don't have the bandwidth to do the research and door-knocking that Kerri Arsenault did.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maj

    Any book that starts with a statement made in 1857 that is on point with the world of today peaks my interest. In this case, Kerri opens her book with a quote Frederick Douglass made in a speech 3 Aug 1857 - "find out just what a people will submit to, and you found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom Any book that starts with a statement made in 1857 that is on point with the world of today peaks my interest. In this case, Kerri opens her book with a quote Frederick Douglass made in a speech 3 Aug 1857 - "find out just what a people will submit to, and you found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." But this is not a book about populace-fueled socio-political unrest, it is a book about something that runs parallel. It is a book about an area whose "existence is shaped by natural forces and human intervention, capitalism and its consequences, economic crimes without punishment . . . and ravaged human beings who thought such neglect didn't do them any harm." Kerri points to "a neo-feudalistic future, the foreground to the background of burdens almost too much for our bodies . . . to bear." She warns "We are all complicit to different degrees, even in those things we omitted, like the silence we failed to break - the things we couldn't bear to say. This existence is only a glimpse of what's to come." And Kerri asks, "What would the world be like if we all changed our demands?" In many ways, this narrative spoke to me on a personal level. Having been a claimant on the Stringfellow Acid Pits, much of the book seemed oddly familiar. History repeating itself. But this was more than a narrative that recycles stories of the past in the words of today's generations. This volume instead highlights the cancer that has grown inside us on a national level, as a nation. A cancer of silence, of laissez-faire attitudes, and practice of looking the other way when we ourselves are not directly impacted. Kerri places blame front and center not only on the 'rich', the companies, but on the people who have turned a blind eye. Those of us that in our silence and / or unwillingness to engage become complicit. As Kerri shows, we are ALL impacted by turning a blind eye. Sooner or later the piper comes to us all. Sooner or later, we have to answer for not demanding a change to the way things have always been done. This book is a must read!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Haider

    Mill Town is new memoir that is a reflection on family, small town life, the impact industry has on the environment and small towns and more. This is a thoughtful book that wanders seamlessly from personal anecdotes to scientific research. Kerri Arsenault grew up in the small working class town of Mexico, Maine where generations of families have worked at the local paper mills. As an adult, Arsenault realizes what an impact the paper mills have had on the town by releasing toxins into the enviro Mill Town is new memoir that is a reflection on family, small town life, the impact industry has on the environment and small towns and more. This is a thoughtful book that wanders seamlessly from personal anecdotes to scientific research. Kerri Arsenault grew up in the small working class town of Mexico, Maine where generations of families have worked at the local paper mills. As an adult, Arsenault realizes what an impact the paper mills have had on the town by releasing toxins into the environment. A seemingly large number of the town's residents, including Arsenault's own family members are diagnosed with cancer over the years, leading some to wonder if there is a connection to the paper mill. This was a fascinating read that delved into some topics that I already had some knowledge about but also taught me some new information. Arsenault effortlessly covered multiple topics and angles and kept it engaging the entire time. She delves into the chemicals known to be released by the factory and their known impacts but also looks into the history of the area and the Acadian people. We learn about the divide between polluted Maine waterways and Maine's image as "Vacationland". I formerly worked at an environmental software company that specialized in an app to track water quality and potential threats to source water so this book definitely piqued my interest, but will also be a good read for anyone interested in environmental non-fiction or memoirs. I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by the author and she did a good job with it. I will definitely look into checking out more of her writing. Thank you to St. Martin's Press and Macmillan Audio for the audio book in exchange for an honest review!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Asen

    This is a great book about the Maine you do not see when visiting Vacationland. Part memoir about growing up in a mill town and part peeling back the onion on carcinogenic elements of living in such a place. I probably live 60 miles from Mexico Maine and while the details of what has gone up there do not surprise me , it embarrasses me that I haven't spent more time thinking about the plight of these workers and their families. This can be an industrial town in any state but is more compelling b This is a great book about the Maine you do not see when visiting Vacationland. Part memoir about growing up in a mill town and part peeling back the onion on carcinogenic elements of living in such a place. I probably live 60 miles from Mexico Maine and while the details of what has gone up there do not surprise me , it embarrasses me that I haven't spent more time thinking about the plight of these workers and their families. This can be an industrial town in any state but is more compelling because Maine prides itself on clean water and clean air. This is well researched but also is a great look at the authors own search to reclaim her Maine identity. You do not need to be a "Mainiac" to read this book but it should be required reading for anyone living in the Pine Tree State.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stefani

    ***I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Macmillan Audio and Netgalley!*** I’m not entirely sure where this book went wrong for me. Maybe I am not the right audience for it. Perhaps I should have read it versus listened to it. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations. I can’t say for sure but it was just boring. The author of the book did the audiobook and that was the wrong choice. The entire book is read in deadpan. There is absolutely no life in it, no ***I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Macmillan Audio and Netgalley!*** I’m not entirely sure where this book went wrong for me. Maybe I am not the right audience for it. Perhaps I should have read it versus listened to it. Perhaps I had the wrong expectations. I can’t say for sure but it was just boring. The author of the book did the audiobook and that was the wrong choice. The entire book is read in deadpan. There is absolutely no life in it, no passion, no excitement. I was bored to tears listening to it and struggled to focus on what was being said. The book had some interesting pieces to it. And I could tell that the author has a lot of strong feelings about how the story of her hometown relates to a larger picture of environmental irresponsibility, lack of corporate accountability and the deceit of the general public. Unfortunately that is way too large of a scope for a single book. So while the author makes some interesting points about these topics there is no depth or exploration of the idea. There are also a LOT of tangents in this book. All of the material focusing on the town and the struggles and effects of the paper mill were really riveting. But there were also whole chapters on the town’s founding, her own family tree, her travel experiences and lots of other things. It detracted from the main story. Frankly, at times it self like a memoir of her family and that just wasn’t something I found interesting or compelling. I got to about halfway through the audiobook before I couldn’t stand it any longer and stopped. I am sure this story will find its audience but I was not it. Reviewed for: Written Among the Stars

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kim Fox

    Such a fascinating book!! Part history lesson, part Genealogy, part environmental study, part family, and part small town. The authors research in how the paper mill in her small town, affected not just the people that worked there but the river and the fish in it, the ash and how it coated everything was simply amazing! This book was mostly a memoir but I would also say it was an study on how greed, corruption, and the need for control can destroy a town. So many layers to this book and each on Such a fascinating book!! Part history lesson, part Genealogy, part environmental study, part family, and part small town. The authors research in how the paper mill in her small town, affected not just the people that worked there but the river and the fish in it, the ash and how it coated everything was simply amazing! This book was mostly a memoir but I would also say it was an study on how greed, corruption, and the need for control can destroy a town. So many layers to this book and each one was told with such understanding and love. You just knew the author cared about her town and wanted to help. The environmental parts in this book are eye opening, and that is thanks to this authors exceptional research! Thank you to Netgalley, St. Martin's Press and Kerri Arsenault for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bonnye Reed

    I received a free electronic copy of this excellent personal history from Netgalley, Kerri Arsenault, and St. Martin's Press on August 13, 2020. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this history of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. Kerry Arsenault writes a compelling, heartfelt personal history of generations of her family and friends that grew up in a northern Maine paper mill town. Maine's infamous Cancer Valley includes the town I received a free electronic copy of this excellent personal history from Netgalley, Kerri Arsenault, and St. Martin's Press on August 13, 2020. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this history of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. Kerry Arsenault writes a compelling, heartfelt personal history of generations of her family and friends that grew up in a northern Maine paper mill town. Maine's infamous Cancer Valley includes the towns of Rumford and Mexico, Maine which were the single employers were major producers of paper and paper products. Unfortunately, the valley involved earned its nickname. Cancer diagnoses, treatments, and deaths are many times that of 'normal' residential areas - communities not reliant on single employer big business to survive. Paper mills were bad, as were chemical plants, mining concerns, even cloth manufacturing. Arsenault shares with us her family history as it evolves around the side-effects of life surrounded by the constant side-effects of giants in the paper business in a world that had no thought or care for the future of the family or even the earth. The world was much smaller and more remote back in the day, and few if any towns were concerned with unchecked pollution of air and water and it's effects on employees and communities. This is a nightmare that is still happening in some areas. When is the cost of employment more important than that of health? How much must we sacrifice to bring home that paycheck? Ms. Arsenault shows us where we must in the future draw the line. If only we could see it through all the Corporate DoubleSpeak and BS... pub date September 1, 2020 received August 13, 2020 St. Martin's Press Reviewed on Goodreads and Netgalley on August 31, 2020.Reviewed on September 1, 2020, at AmazonSmile, Barnes&Noble, BookBub, Kobo, and GooglePlay.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Parker

    Disclaimer: Didn’t finish. I thought this book about the ravaged mill town where the author grew up would be like an Erin Brockovich story - investigating the havoc the paper mills have been inflicting on the small town nicknamed Cancer Valley - but it wasn’t. At least, not enough of it. Parts of the book WERE good; pretty much anything focused on how the paper mills were affecting the people of the town. The problem was the author continually going off on these long tangents and history lessons Disclaimer: Didn’t finish. I thought this book about the ravaged mill town where the author grew up would be like an Erin Brockovich story - investigating the havoc the paper mills have been inflicting on the small town nicknamed Cancer Valley - but it wasn’t. At least, not enough of it. Parts of the book WERE good; pretty much anything focused on how the paper mills were affecting the people of the town. The problem was the author continually going off on these long tangents and history lessons about her family tree, travel experiences, town founders, etc. It got to where I was just turning pages until whatever lesson she was on was over so I could get back to reading what I actually signed up for. At around 40%, when she in the middle of another lecture about someone else I didn’t care about, I reminded myself that I wasn’t getting paid to finish this book and I didn’t have to keep reading it. I promptly closed it down, started another book and read happily ever after. Thanks to #netgalley and #stmartinspress for this ARC of #milltown in exchange for an honest opinion.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    MEmoir/ History / Political Treatise... all in one package. I'll be honest, I picked up this book thinking it would be a bit closer to my own history of being in and around a mill town. In my case, the actual mill town was, by my time - roughly when Arsenault was graduating HS - , just a neighborhood of a larger County seat town it was founded just outside of around the same time as the mill Arsenault writes about. I know what it is like to live in such an area and have the mill be such an impor MEmoir/ History / Political Treatise... all in one package. I'll be honest, I picked up this book thinking it would be a bit closer to my own history of being in and around a mill town. In my case, the actual mill town was, by my time - roughly when Arsenault was graduating HS - , just a neighborhood of a larger County seat town it was founded just outside of around the same time as the mill Arsenault writes about. I know what it is like to live in such an area and have the mill be such an important aspect of your life, and I was expecting a bit more of an examination of that side of life. Which is NOT what we get here. Instead, we get much more of the specific familial and mill history of Arsenault and this particular mill and its alleged past and current environmental misdeeds. We even get a screed against Nestle along the way, and even a few notes of misandrist feminism. Also quite a bit of heaping of anti-capitalist diatribe, all tied up in Arsenault's own complicated emotions of being someone who cares about her home town, but who it was never enough for. (The exact dichotomy I was hoping would have been explored directly far more than it actually was, fwiw, as that is exactly what I struggle with myself.) Overall, your mileage may vary on this book depending on just how ardent you are in your own political beliefs and just how much they coincide with Arsenault's own, but there was nothing here to really hang a reason on for detracting from the star level of the review, and hence it gets the full 5* even as I disagreed with so much of it and was so heavily disappointed that it didn't go the direction I had hoped. Recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    I am a born New Englander from New Hampshire and Massachusetts and I grew up and have lived old milltowns myself. Whilst they are quaint and have now been recycled into housing, schools and art galleries they are a reminder of times gone by and of a damn hard life. The paper mills are mainly in Northern New England and as dangerous as the Monsanto company in their own right. The town of Mexico Maine and I bet you can go from one end to the other with your eyes closed. This book is about the auth I am a born New Englander from New Hampshire and Massachusetts and I grew up and have lived old milltowns myself. Whilst they are quaint and have now been recycled into housing, schools and art galleries they are a reminder of times gone by and of a damn hard life. The paper mills are mainly in Northern New England and as dangerous as the Monsanto company in their own right. The town of Mexico Maine and I bet you can go from one end to the other with your eyes closed. This book is about the author Keri Arsenault and how they slowly became ill from the papermill in their town of Mexico Maine. A whopper of a heartbreaking true story with a dickensenian feel. And it reminded me also of the coalines. A great new voice has risen from the paper ashes like a phoenix! Loved it and have sincere admiration for the people of "down east" Maine as the natives call it. 5 stars and recommending it to my bookstore clientele, friends and family.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sherree Craig

    Kerri did a beautiful job tying in her concerns for our western Maine communities, small bits of memoir and search for her heritage. Such a vivid picture of growing up in the Mexico and Rumford area. Her painstaking research into the chemicals impacting the health of our environment and vitality. I never considered my own issues with infertility could be tied to this, but it sheds a new light on my struggle. Kerri’s research shines a brighter light on what’s happening today with rollbacks to yea Kerri did a beautiful job tying in her concerns for our western Maine communities, small bits of memoir and search for her heritage. Such a vivid picture of growing up in the Mexico and Rumford area. Her painstaking research into the chemicals impacting the health of our environment and vitality. I never considered my own issues with infertility could be tied to this, but it sheds a new light on my struggle. Kerri’s research shines a brighter light on what’s happening today with rollbacks to years of progress made in protecting our environment through the current administration’s reprehensible decisions. The stellar efforts of our own Edmond Muskie are being thrown away like toxic mill sludge.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Absolutely incredible nonfictional account of unsustainable development, poverty and environmental degradation with its consequences. Perfect for a curious reader, as it is for an aspiring academic. Let me start by saying that "Mill Town" was right up my alley; I'm really interested in sustainable development, economics and the study of poverty, so to me, this was as much of a case study as a fascinating read. In this book, the author tells the story of her rural paper mill hometown in Maine, in Absolutely incredible nonfictional account of unsustainable development, poverty and environmental degradation with its consequences. Perfect for a curious reader, as it is for an aspiring academic. Let me start by saying that "Mill Town" was right up my alley; I'm really interested in sustainable development, economics and the study of poverty, so to me, this was as much of a case study as a fascinating read. In this book, the author tells the story of her rural paper mill hometown in Maine, in which life basically revolved around the mill, including her own family's life. However, during the 100+ years of operation, the paper mill significantly contributed to the environmental degradation, which also heavily impacted public health; in addition, the mill's decline meant a drastic economic decline of the town as well. Kerri Arsenault is a brilliant storyteller who made me want to know more and more about Mexico, Maine, its people and socioeconomic development. It teaches politicians, economics and citizens a few lessons which we should learn to apply elsewhere. At the same time, it's not a particularly light or easy read, which is something to bear in mind when choosing this book. As a side note, as I was reading it with my eyeballs, I listened to "Mill Town" on audiobook, which I think was an excellent choice because it is narrated by the author herself. This gives the book an inexplicably special and intimate element - especially when the author is an actually good narrator like Kerri is. I'd highly recommend to use this dual method of reading.. *Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jill Reads

    Gosh, I had high expectations for this book because 1) I love memoirs, 2) I've read some very positive reviews of this book and 3) I'm pro-environment. I was very much looking forward to Kerri Arsenault revealing the lies and secrecy in our big corporations and governmental agencies. That said, this book just fell flat for me. In particular, I found that there were too many personal tangents (e.g., the author's trip to France) that took away from the main storyline of exposing the paper mill. Yes Gosh, I had high expectations for this book because 1) I love memoirs, 2) I've read some very positive reviews of this book and 3) I'm pro-environment. I was very much looking forward to Kerri Arsenault revealing the lies and secrecy in our big corporations and governmental agencies. That said, this book just fell flat for me. In particular, I found that there were too many personal tangents (e.g., the author's trip to France) that took away from the main storyline of exposing the paper mill. Yes, this is a memoir, but I much preferred the research and investigative components to her packing up her house and moving 40+ times. I found the length to be much too long to hold my interest. I kept wanting Kerri to get back to telling the real-world stories of what's happening to the people (and families) affected by the poisoned water and air. Usually I find that a memoir is at its best when the author reads his or her story for the audio book, but in this case, Kerry's voice (inflection, tone, approachability) didn't work for me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    An Audible purchase narrated by the author. Unfortunately. I actually have spent time smelling Rumford. A kraft pulp mill may have the smell of money, but boy howdy! That personal connection is why I wanted to read this odd but compelling book. It would have been better with more focus. Did she intend to write a memoir, an environmental screed, an elegy to small company towns?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barred Owl Books

    A love letter to home and cry for change. What happens when the home town main employer has also been the one poisoning its employees and destroying the environment for future generations in this struggling town?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael Curtiss

    I received MILL TOWN on a Tuesday and it hooked me from the first page. I got up to page 182 before calling it a night, then picked it up Wednesday morning at 7 am and finished it that afternoon. As I started to get into it, I told my friend Keith, who's also reading the book and who, like the author, hails from the Rumford, Maine area, "I can already tell, it's gonna trigger some stuff." And it did. Kerri Arsenault is a wonderful writer. Her style is so lyrical and full of imagery, yet deceptivel I received MILL TOWN on a Tuesday and it hooked me from the first page. I got up to page 182 before calling it a night, then picked it up Wednesday morning at 7 am and finished it that afternoon. As I started to get into it, I told my friend Keith, who's also reading the book and who, like the author, hails from the Rumford, Maine area, "I can already tell, it's gonna trigger some stuff." And it did. Kerri Arsenault is a wonderful writer. Her style is so lyrical and full of imagery, yet deceptively calm: the reader won't see the twists and the reveals until they come at you sideways, taking you down yet another path, and another. As I imagine Arsenault intended. Well done. This book, anchored in the twin industrial hamlets of Rumford and Mexico, Maine, could have been set in Manchester NH or Lowell MA or any one of a thousand mill towns in New England, where there was enough of a river to provide the power and the water that those giant buildings of brick or steel or wood spread out for what seemed miles along the riverbanks required, where machines run 24/7, and where everyone in town works or whose job is a step removed from those buildings- men and women silenced by a hidebound Yankee omertà that stretches across generations, who studiously don't talk about the terrible things that happen either inside those buildings or to the people in the homes and businesses surrounding them, and whose protracted silence ends up as one of the agents of their undoing. It could even be set in the town I grew up in, Enfield NH, where the old Baltic Mill still stands like a rickety wooden skeleton looming over the banks of the Mascoma River, and where there are still people who remember when the mill released dye into the river which was pink or optic yellow or day-glo green, and the colors mingled with other pollutants and effluent and the fish they killed, pushing on down into where the Mascoma meets the Connecticut River and from then on down to the sea, commingled with all of the other poisons and toxins that mills and factories along the rivers' meanderings pumped into all the other rivers and God knows where it ended up or what horrors it spawned. We're all of us paying the freight on the sins of our forebears in that regard. And it's a debt we which will be borne by our children, and our children's children, long after we become dust in the earth. Like I said. Triggering. But such a fine read. I would like to thank Kerri Arsenault for writing MILL TOWN. It is both an exposé of and an elegy to a part of Maine and the people who live there- and really, to Maine itself, and to a way of life that like the mighty Androscoggin River which runs through the area on its circuitous route from New Hampshire's White Mountains to the Gulf of Maine, is constantly shifting and changing. The collective sacrifice of all who are so warmly yet unflinchingly spoken of in MILL TOWN are deserving of a much better fate than what they ended up getting. Get this book and find out for yourself where they end up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Molly Mandje

    This was a gift from a friend who grew up in Rumford, Maine, during the 1940s. I read this in a day. Most of my personal “baggage” comes from being from rural Maine. The immense culture shock I experienced going to a high school outside of my hometown is now easily identifiable but was impossible to objectively understand at the time. I appreciate authors’ attempts to fill in the detail for these rural areas because it helps me process. I expected this book to be similar - like Sarah Smarsh’s Hea This was a gift from a friend who grew up in Rumford, Maine, during the 1940s. I read this in a day. Most of my personal “baggage” comes from being from rural Maine. The immense culture shock I experienced going to a high school outside of my hometown is now easily identifiable but was impossible to objectively understand at the time. I appreciate authors’ attempts to fill in the detail for these rural areas because it helps me process. I expected this book to be similar - like Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland or J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. It’s not. Mill Town has many (sometimes too many) layers: the environmental focus on the mill & the water table, the evolution of paternalism & strikes, and the cultural portrayal of rural Maine. Arsenault frequently writes about her life in other places - always as an aside, with Maine being the focus. I think her writing about being elsewhere is crucial to the perceptive of having left and then not being accepted as a Mainer on her return. She has a house in Connecticut - she has enough money to have a house in Connecticut. It no longer matters that she grew up in Rumford and has multiple generations of familial sweat in the mill —> she’s no longer there, no longer one of them. The very serious third-generation rule in Maine often feels like a race to the bottom —> yes, my family has been in Maine for at least three generations, which is often misunderstood as boasting when in reality it’s qualifying experience. If your family has been in Maine for that long (and not in Southern Maine) then we probably have had some common experiences. The memories or stories I’ve been told might hold true for you as well. Common ground. I appreciated the information about the Acadian culture - I grew up in a very different part of Maine where Acadians are less concentrated and where the rural poor certainly do not ski. I can’t stop thinking about the image of Kerri Arsenault’s mom keeping a copy of her high school yearbook next to the couch.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Motto

    A Scathing and impassioned indictment of corporate greed, Kerri Arsenault’s book Mill Town, Reckoning with what remains, explores the blighted history of the paper mills in Maine. This is also a poignant tribute by the author to her parents and the people in the town of Mexico Maine that helped shape and guide her life. Ms. Arsenault deftly intersperses memories of her own mostly idyllic childhood that was made possible by those same mills. The author’s father died of one of the many forms of ca A Scathing and impassioned indictment of corporate greed, Kerri Arsenault’s book Mill Town, Reckoning with what remains, explores the blighted history of the paper mills in Maine. This is also a poignant tribute by the author to her parents and the people in the town of Mexico Maine that helped shape and guide her life. Ms. Arsenault deftly intersperses memories of her own mostly idyllic childhood that was made possible by those same mills. The author’s father died of one of the many forms of cancer that pervade the area, probably brought on by working in the mill for over forty years however much the paper mills deny any correlation between the extremely high cancer rate in that part of Maine and their dumping chemical like dioxin into the water of the local river. The paper mills are a double edged sword, providing jobs to the small, impoverished towns in southern Maine but also fowling the environment. These jobs are not well paid and the mills dump tons and tons of toxic chemicals, but yes, they do provide jobs so not many complain but at what cost to the people and the environment. Although, this book centers completely on a small area in one state, its message is one that could be viewed as a cautionary tale of corporate greed in many, many small towns across America.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Returning to her modest Maine hometown on the Androscoggin River is far from an idyllic stroll down Memory Lane for Kerri Arsenault. As nurturing a childhood as her large and loving Acadian family could and did provide, they were all nonetheless scarred by the uneasy matrimony of environment and economics generated by the succession of pollution-spewing paper mills that both employed and poisoned the Arsenaults and their neighbors for generations. Mill Town is a very personal--and, sadly, ultima Returning to her modest Maine hometown on the Androscoggin River is far from an idyllic stroll down Memory Lane for Kerri Arsenault. As nurturing a childhood as her large and loving Acadian family could and did provide, they were all nonetheless scarred by the uneasy matrimony of environment and economics generated by the succession of pollution-spewing paper mills that both employed and poisoned the Arsenaults and their neighbors for generations. Mill Town is a very personal--and, sadly, ultimately unresolved--ecological cautionary tale for our times. Dense with interviews, historical background details, and statistical data, as well as a wealth of personal recollections, Ms. Arsenault's book hits all its journalistic targets hard, whether addressing the health, sociology, or ethics that contribute to the often bleak story of this mill town--in many ways, an Anytown, U.S.A. This must have been a heartwrenching book to write, but one that assuredly makes a very worthwhile and thought-provoking read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    This book was top notch. Far and away the best nonfiction of the decade. A fascinating view of a small town that intertwines personal history, geographic history, and environmental history. Consumption and idealism come at a price as this book explains. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially to people like me who have been visitors or short term livers in small towns. Learned about: paper mills, dioxin, sacrifice zones, idealism, Maine, capitalism, cancer, Cancer Valley, corruption, N This book was top notch. Far and away the best nonfiction of the decade. A fascinating view of a small town that intertwines personal history, geographic history, and environmental history. Consumption and idealism come at a price as this book explains. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially to people like me who have been visitors or short term livers in small towns. Learned about: paper mills, dioxin, sacrifice zones, idealism, Maine, capitalism, cancer, Cancer Valley, corruption, Nestlé, bottled water File under: best books of the millennium, approachable nonfiction, books that made me rethink things, horrifying

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Mill Town, by Kerri Arsenault, is about Mexico Maine and the love/hate relationship the town’s residents have with the paper mill that has given them life and death. Though this book is about the author’s hometown, it could be about most any small town in America. The author’s reflections and stories took me back to my childhood and my own love/hate relationship with my community. I loved this book from the first page and consider it one of the best I’ve read this year. The topics discussed, fam Mill Town, by Kerri Arsenault, is about Mexico Maine and the love/hate relationship the town’s residents have with the paper mill that has given them life and death. Though this book is about the author’s hometown, it could be about most any small town in America. The author’s reflections and stories took me back to my childhood and my own love/hate relationship with my community. I loved this book from the first page and consider it one of the best I’ve read this year. The topics discussed, family, community, environment, industry, and the collapse of the rural economy, are so relevant for today. Intermixed throughout the book are beautifully written stories of family and hometown pride. I highly recommend this book. Mill town is scheduled for release in September. I am very grateful for the ARC I received from St. Martin’s Press through Goodreads Giveaways. I will be following the author and recommending Mill Town as an excellent read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Having lived in a town in the Midwestern U.S, that had a paper mill at its core many years ago, Kerri Arsenault's Mill Town really resonated with me from a personal standpoint. What sustains many communities also harms them, and Mill Town is yet another example of that. We've seen this happen time and again with the Duponts and PG&Es of the world, so the story certainly is not new. But the perspective from which she writes and the extensive research she did results in a telling that is sobering Having lived in a town in the Midwestern U.S, that had a paper mill at its core many years ago, Kerri Arsenault's Mill Town really resonated with me from a personal standpoint. What sustains many communities also harms them, and Mill Town is yet another example of that. We've seen this happen time and again with the Duponts and PG&Es of the world, so the story certainly is not new. But the perspective from which she writes and the extensive research she did results in a telling that is sobering and heartbreaking while making me mad as hell. Definitely a must read for anyone who has a conscience. I received an ARC from St. Martin's Press and this is an honest review.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paul Preston

    Maine is a land of hardship intertwined with a stubborn sense of pride. We love our way of life even if it kills us. Mill Town is a book about Rumford and Mexico, Maine, the paper mill that most everyone works at, and the health issues that the paper mill causes. Kerri comes off sounding like she knows better than the rest of us Mainers, a pretentious attitude wondering how we sit back and take it. Her real feelings are actually an exasperated love and it shows. All of her research against the p Maine is a land of hardship intertwined with a stubborn sense of pride. We love our way of life even if it kills us. Mill Town is a book about Rumford and Mexico, Maine, the paper mill that most everyone works at, and the health issues that the paper mill causes. Kerri comes off sounding like she knows better than the rest of us Mainers, a pretentious attitude wondering how we sit back and take it. Her real feelings are actually an exasperated love and it shows. All of her research against the paper mill and Nestle water shows significant health issues that get a slight nod and maybe an “ayuh”. We stoically sit back, not wanting things to change. Mainers put up with the idiocy of politicians and selfish business decisions to live in a place we love and a difficult way of life we brag about. I grew up in the larger paper mill town of Westbrook, And I’m just a few years younger than Kerri. I understand her frustration and her book makes a wicked good read. Her research of the history of the area, the paper mill, the dramatic increases of cancers and other health issues make this a great book. Unfortunately, I doubt anything will come of it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kali Cannizzaro

    Mill Town is many things: part memoir, part Maine history, part labor discussion, and part environmental awareness. Lots of parts. The audiobook narrator, also the author, has a pleasing voice and is easy to listen to. She brings the book to life making the portions involving statistics and numerical legal codes as riveting as possible given the dry content. The overall story itself was full of interesting facts, insights into family relationships, and beautiful atmospheric descriptions. However Mill Town is many things: part memoir, part Maine history, part labor discussion, and part environmental awareness. Lots of parts. The audiobook narrator, also the author, has a pleasing voice and is easy to listen to. She brings the book to life making the portions involving statistics and numerical legal codes as riveting as possible given the dry content. The overall story itself was full of interesting facts, insights into family relationships, and beautiful atmospheric descriptions. However, the frequent topical shifts seemed to be lacking a primary focus and this impacted how much I was able to enjoy it. I would recommend this audiobook to anyone with interest in the history of the paper production industry, the history of Maine, and the relationship between local economy/ industry and environmental/ health concerns.

  25. 5 out of 5

    A. Indie O'Sidhe

    I really liked a lot of books similar to this. Like Educated and Hillbilly Elegy. I found this unbearably stale to read and had to force myself to finish it. I normally don’t even leave reviews but, I do not understand where all the praise of this book comes from. There’s so many other novels, even scientific studies I’d rather read, that are more concise and to the point without drawling over unnecessary and uninteresting information

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tina Panik

    Excellent research, reporting, and writing. Arsenault’s story leaves you wondering which is harder to reconcile: family history, or corporate greed. This was an ARC

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I received this audiobook in exchange for an honest review, which has not altered my opinion of this audiobook. I know very little about this subject, which is why I decided to give this audiobook a shot. Unfortunately, for me it just was not narrated in a way that I could get drawn in. I found myself bored and uninterested and it just did not hold my attention. For some this might be a better read, but for me it just didn't work unfortunately.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    Rounded up to 3 for effort. I'd heard a lot about this book and went so far as to buy it rather than wait for the library. High Expectations = disappointment. The author couldn't seem to figure out what the book was supposed to be. Is it an expose on unsafe working (and living near) conditions at a paper mill? Is it about Maine's ecological problems? An economics book? Acadian migration? It seemed to be all of these wrapped loosely in a memoir. Her writing was far too complex and showy in the story secti Rounded up to 3 for effort. I'd heard a lot about this book and went so far as to buy it rather than wait for the library. High Expectations = disappointment. The author couldn't seem to figure out what the book was supposed to be. Is it an expose on unsafe working (and living near) conditions at a paper mill? Is it about Maine's ecological problems? An economics book? Acadian migration? It seemed to be all of these wrapped loosely in a memoir. Her writing was far too complex and showy in the story sections but in the sections where she was writing about statistics it was clear and straightforward. Minor issue but she also had random photos sprinkled throughout the book with no caption or context almost as an afterthought. This book desperately needed an editor. Pass

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    In the wake of our last election and all the talk of working class , blue collar people who feel underrepresented this book gives insight into factory/milltowns and thew people working in them. That said this particular book covers environmental hazards and is a personal investigation by the author on her hometown's rates of cancer particularly among those working in the nearby mill. Its a moving and raw read that is important. I wont this from a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest revi In the wake of our last election and all the talk of working class , blue collar people who feel underrepresented this book gives insight into factory/milltowns and thew people working in them. That said this particular book covers environmental hazards and is a personal investigation by the author on her hometown's rates of cancer particularly among those working in the nearby mill. Its a moving and raw read that is important. I wont this from a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review

  30. 4 out of 5

    Donna Boyd

    Thank you to #NetGalley, the author and the publisher for a digital copy of this book prior to publication in exchange for my honest review. Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault is the story of Mexico, Maine, where she grew up, and the families who live there. Three generations of Arsenault's family worked at the local paper mill. The mill provided jobs and a good living for many of the townspeople but unbeknownst to them, it also released cancer causing chemicals into the a Thank you to #NetGalley, the author and the publisher for a digital copy of this book prior to publication in exchange for my honest review. Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains by Kerri Arsenault is the story of Mexico, Maine, where she grew up, and the families who live there. Three generations of Arsenault's family worked at the local paper mill. The mill provided jobs and a good living for many of the townspeople but unbeknownst to them, it also released cancer causing chemicals into the air and into the river, later causing the area to become known as "cancer valley". This book is part expose' and part heartfelt memoir about growing up in a small town as part of a large nuclear family. It is a well researched book and I learned so much from reading it. Arsenault makes a good case for switching to the European Union's approach to regulating chemicals which is "the Precautionary Principle," where industry must prove that people and the ecosystem will not be affected by the chemicals. The approach in the United States places the burden of proof on the people to prove that chemicals have caused harm. Perhaps if we followed the European Union's approach, things would be different for Mexico, Maine and all the people who have lived and died in that town as a result of dangerous chemicals. This is one of the best books I have read this year and I love Arsenault's style of writing. She drew me in with the first paragraph and I continue to think about this book even after finishing it.

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