This is narrative nonfiction at its best. Mill Town is a cross between environmental exposé and memoir; it is kept interesting and engaging by bouncing between these threads. This is a book about the Maine you do not see when visiting “Vacationland,” and is ultimately a book about the devastating impact industry has upon the environment and the family.
Environmental dilemmas and local economies converge in a snarl almost too daunting to untangle. The insidious nature of pollution and accruing toxins play out here in disastrous ways. It is an inevitable outcome of our collective complacency about corporate dominance, as well as the fatal fallout from unchecked capitalism. The consequences are unacceptable.
The author grows up in a small paper mill town in Maine, an area that becomes known as Cancer Valley, where cancer rates are shockingly high, and where many of the residents and mill workers succumb to the disease. The author is of Acadian ancestry, which gets explored as well, and we learn the history of how they were driven out and scattered.
One theme in the book is the muzzled silence of those less fortunate. The Acadians were silenced, their language and culture erased. Likewise, the mill workers who got sick were silenced by their employers.
I learned a lot about dioxins, which are toxic, carcinogenic contributors to cancer. Among other things, dioxins are a by-product of bleaching paper white. For example, tampons are dangerous, because the dioxins in them are receptively absorbed by the body. Tissues, toilet paper, paper towel– all are white and at such a huge cost to human life. But this will not change until the market demand changes.
The environmental hazards in the ground water, the soil, and the air were extensive from the paper mill. But then what happens? Nestlé buys up Poland Spring, as well as the contaminated mill town water, to bottle up and sell to those thinking they are getting clean spring water, pure from Maine! Then they appoint a Nestle man to set the governmental water standards for the state.
This is an important book about environmental destruction. It gives one pause on so very many levels. It will be hard to see paper, water, or even Maine, in the same way again. Many may not want to read such an indictment of corporate greed, but it is important to be informed, and not to remain silent.
I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by the author. I thought she did a great job, although quite matter of fact and dispassionate. I felt her deceptive calm highlighted and underscored the appalling facts. Both in writing and tone, the author comes across as a reasonable, cogent, likable person, and not at all a reactionary. She feels like someone you want to know. Plus, she writes magnificently, with enviably lyrical turns of phrases, full of imagery, and poetic detail. She lives in Connecticut now… maybe we could entice her to come talk in our local independent bookstore?
This book is an intense but necessary read. I highly recommend it, and give it 5 stars.