American Rust takes vast swaths and bits and pieces of prior Great American Novels; echoes and influences of distinctly American novels and creates in the process an ambitious, sometimes plodding novel that feels vaguely familiar.
The characters are well defined but in some ways becomes an exercise in character study overkill. In my opinion the characters could have benefited from less internalizing and more external plot movement. This lack of external plot movement also handicaps one of the books intentions, creating a portrait of a dying/dead town.
The close relation of the central circle of characters lends a closed off feeling to the whole affair. If the intent was to offer a portrait of a dying town, business and peoples (which I believe to be the case) then a broader cast of characters that cuts through more layers of social (and economic) strata is needed. The core characters regularly come into contact with secondary characters having different experiences then their own (and landing differently after the collapse) but since they aren’t explored at all they become missed opportunities. It’s this intended portrait of a dying town that suffers the most from these missed opportunities and keeps American Rust from being profound and relevant.
American Rust for me falls into the close but not quite category.
[I originally reviewed American Rust on March 30th, 2009.]