Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

by Kerri Arsenault


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What are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? What are the ways that "place" can shape, repel and draw us in? Arsenault sifts through historical archives and her own experience in this atmospheric memoir and searing exposé.

Finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics John Leonard Prize for Best First Book
One of O Magazine's Best Books of Fall 2020
A 2021 New England Society Book Award Finalist

“A powerful, blistering, devastating book. Kerri Arsenault is both a graceful writer and a grieving daughter in search of answers and ultimately, justice.” —Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

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 a 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 toxins and disease. Mill Town is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250155931
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 55,906
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

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.

Table of Contents

Preamble 1

1 What Goes Around, Comes Around 5

2 What Goes Up Must Come Down 22

3 Connecting with Dot 47

4 Happy Days 58

5 With Great Power 72

6 Family and Other Acts of Omission 98

7 Margins of Safety 110

8 Vacationland 126

Interlude 155

9 What Remains 157

10 Strike One, Strike Two … 166

11 Hope Springs Eternal 193

12 Pipe Dreams 221

13 Going Downhill 259

14 The End of the Line 271

15 Buried in Paper 284

16 The Truth Lies Somewhere 298

Coda 311

Acknowledgments 315

Notes 319

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