cover image Rust Belt Boy

Rust Belt Boy

Paul Hertneky. Bauhan, $21.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87233-222-5

Essayist Hertneky focuses his first book on his childhood in the steel town of Ambridge, Pa., “with its ethnic enclaves and round-the-clock factories.” He combines his memories with sections on the history of the town to produce a memoir that is both a coming-of-age story and a social history of the growth, death, and rebirth of a rust belt community. He talks lovingly about the strong role Catholicism played in his family during the 1960s, where he “felt embraced at the heart of this world where children were seen as divine gifts.” He also provides a fascinating look at how the town itself was founded in the spirit of communal millennialism embodied by the Harmony Society, a group with origins in Germany that existed in Pennsylvania from 1805 to 1905. He is honest, insightful, and empathetic about the rough life of many of the people who worked in nearby Aliquippa’s steel works, which “gobbled up mile and mile of shoreline.” Most successfully, Hertneky depicts his own trajectory from the town to college and beyond in parallel with the history of Ambridge’s “grand schemes and redemptive dreams.” [em](May) [/em]