Review of Methland by Nick Reding
The story told in Methland concerns the impact that the drug methamphetamine has had on the lives of the people of one small town in America. The town the author chose to highlight is Oelwein, Iowa. But the negative circumstances attributed to meth use in Oelwein are the same in countless towns and cities across the country. The author could easily have written the same book by focusing on any number of similar towns by simply interchanging characters.
The author opens the book with a scene of him looking down on Oelwein after departing Chicago's O'Hare International Airport en route to San Francisco. From the air, Oelwein is nothing more than a few crossing streets and a patchwork of farm fields. The rest of the book is an attempt to look at the town in a much more detailed manner, with the meth problem serving as a plot device. This is a story with many perspectives. First, there are the addicts. These are the first people we meet. Then there are the suppliers, whom more often than not are also addicts themselves. Then there are those in law enforcement whose job it is to find and dismantle the meth labs and lock up the men and woman who run them. Along the way are an assortment of other equally impacted people: the family and friends of the addicts, the lawyers, the politicians, even the pharmacists and clerks who find themselves an important part of the equation.
There are many characters in this book. Some are featured more than others. You get to know a little about all of them. Some of the stories that stood out for me included that of Roland Jarvis, who was disfigured in a methlab explosion in the basement of his mother's house. There is the story of Lori Arnold, sister of actor Tom Arnold, who turned from casual user to major supplier to convicted felon. When the author compares Lori's life as a low wage earner with little opportunity to her life as a high rolling meth producer, it's not hard to see how someone could be drawn to make that choice.
The author calls meth an American drug. It is a drug derived from a chemical process using easily accessible ingredients. That's why they're called meth labs. But it's the effect the drug has on the user that makes it an American drug. One of the characteristics of the drug is that it allows users to work for long periods of time, at high levels, with little or no rest. Add to this the fact that the drug can be made in small quantities almost anywhere, including riding on a motorcycle, and it's easy to see why meth has become an epidemic.
With so many viewpoints to cover, the book reads more like a series of vignettes than a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The book really didn't come together for me until the very end. This is where the author summarizes all that he has learned; spells out what needs to be done and what has hampered law enforcement's efforts to date; and finally brings together all of the loose threads.
The book has already made some best nonfiction lists, so the author doesn't need any help from me. But it made my list as well.