Thursday, September 3, 2009

Methland by Nick Reding

Lately I have this crazy way of picking out books to review: If it looks interesting, I pick it up. I'm a bit of a crime buff and I usually read nonfiction when reading adult books. That brings me to today's review, for Methland by Nick Reding.

For four years, Reding tracked the effects of meth in Oelwein, Iowa, which has been referred to as the meth capital of the world. Of course, about 70 other towns have this distinction, too, but this is Oelwein's story. Many of Oelwein's residents work in agriculture, and came to meth because it gave them the stamina to last through multiple shifts in agriculture factories, shifts they needed to stay afloat financially. Meth has two properties that make it a problem that can swallow a small, economically disadvantaged town: It's easy to make and one of the most addictive substances on the planet. Reding doesn't spare a lot of details about meth's effects on the body and what can happen when meth manufacturing goes terribly wrong. (Given that meth manufacturers make meth from cold pills and hazardous chemicals with highly flammable residue, this occurrence is not uncommon.) Reding's protagonist is Nathan Lein, a county prosecutor who deals with the fallout from local -- which becomes national and international -- drug use and trafficking.

Even though I have never lived in a small town or known anyone affected by meth, I felt the desperation Reding writes about in terms of small-town economies and how the battle against meth is constantly uphill. Oelwein was home to one of the country's first meth empires, built by a woman who couldn't kick meth even after years in federal prison. What makes this book a success is Reding's appeal to the heart rather than to the mind. He shows readers how laws meant to stop the production of meth have done practically nothing. He makes us feel the strain on Oelwein's population and knows that there's no one singular cause for its meth problem. In parts I wanted more, but I also realize that it's hard to fit four years' worth of research into one 275-page book.


Methlandbook.com || NY Times review || Methland page at Bloomsbury USA

5 comments:

Kelly J. said...

I read this one too, but as someone who spent a few years in Iowa -- not far from Oelwein -- I have to say I was disappointed in a number of simple factual errors. There were three that stuck out to me that were simple facts wrong. That makes me worry about how authentic it is and it makes me wonder how much the research is founded. I'm not saying this wasn't an eye opening book or insightful, but it left me with a lot of reservations. Someone who mentions immediately spending a lot of time in Iowa but then fails to properly identify that University of Northern Iowa is in Cedar Falls, not Cedar Rapids, that Iowa City is Iowa's largest city (it's more like the 5th), and that Iowa City is southwest of Oelwein (it's southeast) ... it gives me some concerns.

Carlie Webber said...

@Kelly I had no idea! I definitely understand your concerns, as I've had issues with books set in areas I know well. Sometimes I wonder if the simple things get swallowed up by the larger ideas.

Kelly J. said...

What's funny is that most reviews haven't mentioned the errors. Sure, they're small in comparison to the greater idea, but the problem comes in the author's claims of spending so much time in the state. I think they're easy to miss if you don't know, but perhaps the most problematic part of it.

Alas, I still think it's a book worth reading! I'm curious how things look now, since his book takes place a couple of years ago. It's one of those books that should be revisited in a few years.

tanita davis said...

This one SOUNDS like Glasgow, even though it's Iowa, USA. Interesting premise.

Marie said...

This one sounds pretty interesting... my husband lived in a small southern town & told me about the whole meth problem they had there...

Sucks about the factual errors though :/