Part memoir, part journalism, MILL TOWN is a multi-layered book that wrestles with some of the most worrying themes in our world today, including economic inequality, the environment, and unchecked corporate behavior, delivered in the most intimate package that is the story of one woman, her family and the small town in Maine where they are from.
MILL TOWN: Reckoning With What Remains
by Kerri Arsenault
St. Martin’s Press, September 2020
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 that 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, moral, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.” In Mill Town, Arsenault undertakes an excavation of a collective past, sifting through historical archives and scientific reports, talking to family and neighbors, and examining her own childhood to present a portrait of a community that illuminates not only the ruin of her hometown and the collapse of the working-class of America, but also the hazards of both living in and leaving home, and the silences we are all afraid to violate. In exquisite prose, Arsenault explores the corruption of bodies: the human body, bodies of water, and governmental bodies, and what it’s like to come from a place you love but doesn’t always love you back. A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is 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 serves on the board of the National Books Critics Circle, is the Book Review Editor at Orion magazine, and Contributing Editor at Lithub. Arsenault received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and studied in Malmö University’s Communication for Develoment master’s programme. Her writing has appeared in Freeman’s, Lithub, Oprah.com, and The Minneapolis Star Tribute, among other publications. She lives in New England. This is her first book.