book review: Methland

Title: Methland
Author: Nick Reding
ISBN: 978-1-59691-650-0
Pages: 272
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Review source: publisher
Rating: 3/5





In truth, all drug epidemics are only in part about the drugs. Meth is indeed uniquely suited to Middle America, though this is only tangentially related to the idea that it can e made in the sink. The rise of the meth epidemic was built largely on economic policies, political decisions, and the recent development of American cultural history. Meth’s basic components lie equally in the action of government lobbyist, long-term trends in the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, and the effects of globalization and free trade. Along the way, meth charts the fears that people have and the vulnerabilities they feel, both as individuals and as communities.

Methland provides a very thorough investigation of the methamphetamine infiltration on a small Iowa town. It is less about the product and more about the people. Author Nick Reding, a native of Missouri, chose Oelwein, Iowa [aka Methlehem]. By choosing to focus on one town’s challenges and heartaches associates with meth, Reding attempts to add a personal touch to the often told story of meth’s brutality. He introduces readers to three central characters in Methland: the town prosecutor; the doctor; and the meth addict.

Nathan Lein, assistant county attorney.
By the time I met Nathan, he estimated that 95 percent of all his cases were related to the drug in one manner or another: manufacture and distribution, possession, possession with intent to distribute, illegal sale of narcotics to a minor, driving under the influence of an illegal substance, etc. . . What bothered him most were the crimes, and there were numerous, in which children had been involved. Many of those included child rape. Others involved neglect to an order of magnitude—three-year-olds left alone for a week to take care of their younger sibling; children drinking their own urine to avoid dehydration—that had once been unheard of in Oelwein.

Dr. Clay Hallberg, Oelwein general practitioner, who has been fighting his own alcohol addiction.
Just as brain cancer often spreads to the lungs, said Clay, meth often spreads between classes, families, and friends. Meth’s associated rigors affect the school, the police, the mayor, the hospital, and the town businesses. As a result, said Clay, there is a kind of collective low self-esteem that sets in once a town’s culture must react solely to a singular—and singularly negative—stimulus.

Roland Jarvis, meth addict.
At thirty-eight, Jarvis had become a sort of poster boy around Oelwein for the horrific consequences of long-term meth addiction. Like Boo Radley, he hardly ever ventured out, though his was nonetheless a heavy presence in town. … He wore warm-up pants and wool sock. He was always cold, he said, and hadn’t slept more than three hours at a time in years. His skin was still covered in open, pussing sores. [Jarvis also had nearly transparent skin as it had liquefied and reset. He had “meth mouth” i.e. his teeth had rotted out.]

Methland would have been much more powerful with stronger and more detailed physical descriptions. I enjoy reads like Germs by Judith Miller, et al. and Biohazard by Ken Alibek. When I read medical or science-related non-fiction; I want to be haunted by it. I want to have nightmares. Methland just did not go there for me; it did not delve deep enough into the depravity. The sub-title of the book is “The Death and Life of An American Small Town.” Maybe I just do not believe in small-town America. Or more likely for this city woman,  Methland failed to provide me with an insider’s view on small town America. A skillful writer can place any reader anywhere. While author Nick Reding gets very involved in the town and its residents, parts of Methland read like a textbook or a long Op-Ed piece.

Cocaine and heroin are linked to illegal crops—coca and poppies, respectively. Meth on the other hand is linked in a one-to-one ratio with fighting the common cold. Not only was the pharmaceutical industry likely to fight harder against pseudoephedrine monitoring than it had regarding ephedrine, but the shear bulk of pseudoephedrine being produced also made it difficult to track compared with the relatively small amount of ephedrine being manufactured.

I don’t buy those arguments when something terrible happens and people say: “It’s such a nice quiet town. We’d never expect this to happen here.” This is the 21st Century. Wake up and expect the unexpected. Globalization connects everyone by cell phones, Face book, Twitter, YouTube, and other web sites. Information is available to anyone with the click of a mouse.

Call me cynical but biotech, big pharma, and commercialization ruined small town America long before meth did. Many of the problems outlined in the book are linked to immigration issues. According to the Pew Hispanic Center report in 2005, there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States and illegal immigrants work 25% of all agricultural jobs in the U.S. If Reding spent three years investigating the infestation of small town America by illegal immigrants, that is a book I would have been very interested in reading. The rural United States has for decades had higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction abuse than the nation’s urban areas [p. 76]. From my point of view, there’s less education, less culture and much less to do in rural areas. Oh, and more poverty with less programs of assistance i.e. food pantries, soup kitchens and the like. There are plenty of stats about meth and being a Medical Assistant and nursing student, I can visualize many of its effects. However, in the middle of reading this, I watched Discover Channel’s Meth Nation to gather a better visual.

The side effects of meth—bleeding skin-sores as your pores struggle to open and expel the drug, which often become infected; internal organs shrunken from dehydration; vast areas of the brain that according to CAT scans are completely depleted of neurotransmitters: a sense that a person is literally falling apart from the inside out—seem almost unnatural, something visited upon our waking lives from the unconscious. The cruel irony is that it is a horror completely of our own making.

I just cannot completely care enough about meth. To make Methland more effective for me, I needed a bolder before and more definitive after. Having one’s life destroyed so completely by meth or another drug is a choice and I don’t feel sorry for these people. We spend so much time and money and other resources busting meth cooks and dealers etc., yet other sources sprout up elsewhere. Where will it end? Am I callous? Maybe. Am I an urban, latte-sipping liberal intellectual with a master’s degree far detached from the working poor of the Midwest agriculture states? Absolutely. I understand the portrait of a small town and its destruction that Reding ventured to paint in Methland. There just is not a black and white. It is very gray. And with meth, the drug, one cannot accept it that way.

, , , , ,

  1. #1 by Amy Steele on October 29, 2009 - 17:20

    Was going to interview author Nick Reding. Set it up at least a week ago. Guess he agreed and then found my review. Very unprofessional. He canceled on me.

    Thu, October 29, 2009 12:23:10 PMFrom: Nick Reding View Card


    I won’t be able to talk Friday. Not sure why you’d want to talk if you’re so obviously unmoved by the book.

%d bloggers like this: