On Nick Reding's "Methland" and the Tweaker Beneath Your Bed

So this weekend I read Nick Reding’s Methland, a nonfiction book about the effects of the crystal meth “epidemic” on America (this is harped on too much) and in particular, on the town of Oelwein, Iowa. In part I read it because it seems to have gotten good press about speaking to The Decline of Small-Town America. (My novel Goodnight, Texas focused on this problem, too. I’m simpatico.) I also live in two small towns, one tiny (Westcliffe, Colorado—population 1500 maybe?) and the other medium-sized (State College, Pennsylvania—population 90,000 maybe?). I don’t doubt that both towns have crystal meth users, but I’d also bet that both towns have more binge drinkers than speed freaks. It’s the kind of book that may be full of accurate statistics (which should always be taken with a grain of salt) and juicy anecdotes (it needed many more of these), but still seemed to hype its argument. No doubt meth use and Mexican drug cartels are major problems, but where would they land on the list of Our Worst Problems? I don’t know.
Reding does a good job of tying the drug problems to bigger issues like Big Agriculture and Big Pharmacy. But he also seems to hang out in bars mainly to socialize with the meth users, and I have no doubt that if I hung out in bars a lot I’d probably meet some ne’er-do-wells, too. But both of my towns aren’t really defined by the bars and druggies. It’s a matter of how you look at it. The people I socialize with in Westcliffe tend to be smart, hard-working, upbeat, and outdoor-oriented. State College tends toward the yuppie vision of the world, parents with kids in preschool, good jobs, and a Starbucks latte habit. The Great Recession seems a bigger problem for the country right now.

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