December 16, 2009


I grew up in Iowa and went to college here, so I'm always interested when my home state is in the news. Whether it's every four years for the Presidential Caucus or when a college team is getting some national exposure, there are a lot of positives that draw attention to the state.

A lot of writers and other artists come to Iowa for school, and then go back out into the world to tell their stories. One author from the outside world did the reverse, and came into the state to tell a story that a lot of people between the borders of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers know too well. I story that might hit pretty close to home.

Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding is a story covering two years inside Oelwein, Iowa and the effects that methamphetamines have had on the small northeast Iowa town. Reding completely immersed himself in the meatpacking town to get a first hand look at the toll drug use, production and distribution have had on Oelwein. He offers a straightforward look at a town that seems to have been forgotten by the larger War on Drugs, and draws the conclusion if something doesn't happen quickly the town could be lost forever.

Meth is a Frankenstein-style drug mixing over-the-counter pharmaceuticals with everything from cleaning chemicals to whatever else might be in close proximity that seems good to get high. When snorted it speeds up a person's system with dizzying effects, and in the case of Oelwein and other small towns that allows the average working class laborer to put in more hours at whatever manufacturing job they're able to find.

I first heard about this book from of friend who grew up in Oelwein, and though he lives in another Midwestern city now he goes back frequently to see family. He said the book does a good and honest job of exposing the effects meth has on small communities, especially in Iowa, but Oelwein isn't down for the count yet. He told me about good families that still live there, and the people who want their home to get better. People who haven't yet given up, and the book features a number of these people. That's a central theme that Reding seems to stress as well. Drugs are an obvious plague, but there's no need to give up, and in the small towns ravaged by the effect of drugs there's still something worth fighting for. Redings story introduces characters on both side of the fight, including those whose lives have been consumed by drugs and those who are fighting to win back the town. It's a graphic account of what happens when large-scale vices are imposed on a small-scale setting, but Reding's story offers a peak at hope and reminds readers that all isn't lost when there are people who still care about what their community could be.


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