Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

Kerri Arsenault (Author)
Pre-Order   Ships Sep 01, 2020


A galvanizing and powerful debut, Mill Town is an American story, a human predicament, and 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 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 her 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, physical, and emotional health in a slow-moving catastrophe, earning the area the nickname "Cancer Valley."

Mill Town is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working-class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

Product Details

$27.99  $25.75
St. Martin's Press
Publish Date
September 01, 2020

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About the Author

KERRI ARSENAULT 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 Development master's programme. Her writing has appeared in Freeman's, Lithub,, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune, among other publications. She lives in New England. Mill Town is her first book.


"[Mill Town] is about the better, more prosperous American life those industries afforded us before we fell ill, as well as the Devil's bargain that made all this possible, maybe even inevitable. Mill Town is for anyone who's ever wondered about the Calvinistic calculus whereby the elect become truly wealthy while the damned (read: poor, dark-skinned, newly arrived) find early graves." --Richard Russo, author of Chances Are... and Empire Falls

"Mill Town is a powerful, blistering, devastating book. Kerri Arsenault is both a graceful writer and a grieving daughter in search of answers and ultimately, justice. In telling the story of the town where generations of her family have lived and died, she raises important and timely questions." --Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

"The book of a lifetime; a deep-drilling, quick-moving, heartbreaking story. Scathing and tender, it is written in a clear-running prose that lifts often into poetry, but comes down hard when it must. Through it all runs the river of Mill Town: sluggish, ancient, dangerous, freighted with America's sins. This is a book about residues and legacies; I know that Mill Town will stay with me for years to come." --Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

"Kerri Arsenault's pursuit of truth is as compassionate as it is relentless. The result, her book, is tender, enthralling, and, ultimately, devastating." --Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn

In Mill Town, Kerri Arsenault probes deeply, searchingly, into webs of family and community, history and science, power and commerce and the price of loyalty to create what could be called an Our Town for the 21st century, updated and expanded to account for ecological horror... Arsenault's relentless, unsparing exploration goes to the heart of American life, and I can think of no book that's more relevant to this moment in time than Mill Town." --Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

"[A] sweeping, brutal expose of American corporations' ruining natural resources, poisoning the environment, endangering the health and safety of the working class, and hiding and denying their crimes. This book is full of love and sadness. It's also breathtakingly wide-ranging, cogently angry, brilliantly written, harrowing, heartbreaking, urgent, and timely." --Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man

"A tender howl about the graveyard of industry. This fierce and impeccable work really got my blood boiling about the plunder mechanism of capitalism and its blow against life." --Emily Raboteau, author of Searching for Zion

This memoir-slash-history tracks the rise and mostly decline of Mexico, Maine, a small mill town on the Androscoggin River that has been the home of the author's family for generations. Arsenault writes nonfiction with the density and beauty of poetry, in this telling of the costs and tolls (environmental, physical, cultural, medical) of industrialization and its aftermath. --Mark Lamster, Architecture Critic, Dallas Morning News

"Profoundly important... Tender, angry, full of respect and bewilderment, it is a complex love letter to a hometown. It's also a powerful glimpse of how corporate power, small town pride, and death are entwined in America: a vivid insight to the unbuilding of an American dream, this will be one of the major nonfiction books of a year in which the debate over what America is will rage." --John Freeman, author of Dictionary of the Undoing

Spanning ten years, Arsenault's hand keeps moving as across the paper on some tombstone for a rubbing. Slowly, beautifully, terribly something comes to the surface. --David Searcy, author of Shame and Wonder