This land is 'Methland' - Page 2

THE DRUG ISSUE: A new book tracks a drug through America's cracks and faultlines

But Reding's attempts to connect Oelwein's story with his own family history cause the book to lose focus, particularly as it concludes. To his credit, this feels like the result of keeping an over-cautious distance from mom-baiting newsmagazine templates. Ironically, though, some of Methland's descriptions of meth-fueled psychosis — an elaborate fetish for enemas; frozen pigs in a blanket used as butt plugs — are far-out enough to be at home in the "Drugs" episode of Channel 4's satirical documentary program Brass Eye.

Methland also tracks the paths of the meth trade, illustrating how early routes were established by out-migration from the corn belt to labor markets in Southern California, then were consolidated into an empire by Lori Arnold, and finally transformed into a decentralized system in which Mexican traffickers use illegal immigrants employed in the meatpacking industry as mules. By following both federal meth legislation and news coverage of the epidemic, Reding emphasizes meth's functions and reputation within society. He links the drug to an incredible depression of wages and standard of living by corporations threatening to move operations offshore should they be forced to enact worker protections.

Meth is a drug with no celebrities, and Reding treats his subjects with respect, despite close calls with former addicts who play disc golf with him one minute and threaten his life the next. But even beyond a standard litany of reservations about nonfiction — that the author's voice is too intrusive or not intrusive enough, that there are chunks of undigested research — Methland's attempt to combine personal reflections on identity and place with an examination of the drug's role in a small town's economic struggles seems formally stale.

Perhaps this approach is more truthful, though: meth in Oelwein offers little in the way of rausch, which Ronell defines as the "ecstasy of intoxication," but can be everything when it comes to making do as agribusiness exerts its downward pressure on communities that had previously survived on small-scale farming and small business. Though he might not be able to keep his readers fully invested in his book's characters, Reding illuminates how meth flows along the same lopsided trajectory of so-called development for which globalization is a handy catch-all. Meth lit is a distant prospect, and as Ronell reminds us with respect to crack, it's because these drugs don't have the veneer of moral defensibility. A writing more appropriate to the subject might put forth a louder call for justice for the future. Methland does an able job for now.

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