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. But 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.
For stretches, it is pure memoir—and first-rate memoir at that. Arsenault’s accounts of her life, both in Mexico and in her years away, are mesmerizing. Evoking that particular flavor of small-town Maine life is difficult to do with any sort of verisimilitude; even those who have lived it can’t always manage. Arsenault has no such problem, crafting a portrait that is fiercely proud and beautiful, peeling paint and all. In other places, the book is a compelling and taut work of industrial investigation. Arsenault is meticulous in her research, ultimately building a warts-and-all look at the history of the mill. Good, bad and ugly are presented, all of it with receipts ... Arsenault’s narrative moves with steady relentlessness, pressing ever forward. There’s a sense of constant motion to the prose, even as it relates to the relative stagnation of the place itself ... Mill Town is haunting and heartbreaking, charming and funny … and utterly exceptional.
In lyrical and compelling prose, Arsenault reveals the dependencies that the mill created in bleak blue-collar Mexico and the nearby larger town of Rumford ... her story of a paper mill that sustained and also poisoned its people is one of the most remarkable that I have read ... Mill Town does not deliver a specific indictment. What Arsenault presents, with mesmerizing lyricism and endearing honesty, is the story of a dying town wedded to a paper mill that once anchored the local economy while also bringing pollution and cancer. Mill Town puts forth larger questions of the human relationship to the environment; of the violence done to the land that eventually translates into the devastation of the people that live on it ... Mill Town exposes how the truths of polluting mills, the harm they caused and the harm that they are still causing, are easily discoverable.
As Kerri Arsenault discovered during the making of her trenchant and aching new book, the science and practice of pollution control has been fraught with indecision, ineffectiveness, indifference and often overwhelming corporate influence ... Arsenault’s book shares a spirit with the writings of Terry Tempest Williams.