Book Review: “Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains” by Kerri Arsenault
Growing up, Kerri Arsenault witnessed relatives, friends, and neighbors in her small hometown succumb to cancer and other debilitating, often fatal diseases. It wasn’t until she grew up and moved away that she realized these illnesses were the direct and indirect result of the chemicals released from the paper mill where a majority of people in her hometown of Mexico, Maine, were employed.
In this book, Arsenault blends memoir, science, and history to explore the harmful effects that paper mills throughout Maine inflict upon the same communities that depend on them for economic survival. Her research runs the gamut from personal interviews with mill workers to exhaustive searches for incriminating documents in dim backrooms of government buildings. Arsenault’s search for the true impact of the paper industry intensifies after her father, who worked at the mill in Rumford most of his life, is diagnosed with cancer.
One of the prevalent themes in this book is Arsenault’s challenge to the idyllic image most people have of Maine: “In Maine, we clear-cut our forests while tourists exalt them. Pollution bankrupts the fresh air we advertise. We let dioxins invade our environment, which end up in lobsters tourists eat… What gives our town life could also be what’s killing it.”
For a new perspective on the “real” Maine, an exploration of the harm our prosperous industries create, and a deeper look at the lives and struggles of the working-class within Maine’s mill towns, this book will not disappoint.
Review by Shannon Bowring, Technical Services Coordinator.
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