cover image Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

Kerri Arsenault. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (348p) ISBN 978-1-250-15593-1

In this powerful investigative memoir, book critic Arsenault examines her relationship with Mexico, Maine, her now-downtrodden hometown. In 2009, Arsenault returned there from Connecticut after her grandfather died; while in this town (pop. 2,600) that owes its existence to a nearby 118-year-old paper mill, she decided to resume research on the Arsenault family’s French-Canadian lineage. She quickly learns of the environmental havoc wrought by the mill, which earned Mexico the nickname of “Cancer Alley,” and uncovers the many obituaries citing people who “died after a battle with cancer” believed to be caused by ash emitted by the mill (dubbed “mill snow”) that also crept into her family’s home. From there, Arsenault embarks on a decade-long probe into the environmental abuses of a company that supported her family for three generations. “The legacies powerful men construct almost always emerge from the debris of other people’s lives,” she writes, yet her inquiry only deepened her bond with Mexico (“We can and probably should go back to confront what made us leave, what made us fall in and out of love with the places that create us, or to see what we left behind”). Arsenault paints a soul-crushing portrait of a place that’s suffered “the smell of death and suffering” almost since its creation. This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home—“the heart of human identity”—is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment. (Sept.)