It's been a long and winding road for Philipp Meyer from high school dropout to acclaimed author, who has now written two novels "American Rust" and "The Son" which have caused him to be compared to Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and others. How did he do it?
Meyer said recently, "When I was about fifteen I decided I was through with formal education......I didn't see the future in it. I didn't see myself going to college. I thought I could learn more on my own. So I dropped out of high school and spent about five years working as a bike mechanic and two years volunteering in a trauma center in downtown Baltimore...the sort of hospital you go to after you've been shot or stabbed."
Meyer, who now resides in Austin, Texas, after writing "The Son" which is a history of the Lone Star State in fictional narrative, further said, "By the time I was twenty I was getting restless. I wasn't learning anything new. The idea of sitting down in a class and having someone teach me stuff....that seemed like about the most lurxurious thing I could think of. I realized I needed to go to college. Obviously this made my parents pretty happy."
His first book which was published "American Rust" details struggles of two twenty something kids who appear lost in the decaying Mon Valley of Pennsylvania in the wake of the closing of steel mills and the outsourcing of most other jobs in the region.
Meyer recounts he worked on Wall Street after graduating from Cornell where his bosses told him outsourcing jobs to other countries was good for the economy. He didn't agree with their perception, saying, "I'm more interested in people than money. That's why I left derivates trading at the bank."
When he began applying to colleges he says the admissions officer at Johns Hopkins actually laughed at him and said "they didn't take people with GEDs. So I began taking classes at a small Jesuit college in Baltimore, but kept applying to the big universitites. On my third go-around, Cornell decided to take a chance on me."
He further said about his role as a derivatives trader,".......after growing up in a city that had been decimated by job loss, I was part of the financial system that closed factories in Pennsylvania and Alabama and moved them to third world countries."
He wrote both "The Son" and American Rust" in the stream of consciousness style. He explained the reasons for that as follows: "I think one of the most important things about literature is its ability to show the inner workings of a person's mind. It's the only art form that really does that well. Music, visual art, film....those forms do other things well, but only literature can take you on a prolonged journey through another person's consciousness."
In "American Rust", Meyer explores the minds of Poe and Isaac, Poe was the outstanding football player in high school while Isaac was the smartest. Isaac had thought about going to Yale but for some reason delayed and stayed in the decaying Monongahela Valley while Poe ignored a football scholarship to Colgate to remain behind as well.
They are pondering their futures when they encounter three men in a deserted warehouse as they are traveling. Isaac kills one of the men by throwing at stone at him as two of them are about to murder Poe. The third man is already unconscious after Poe hit him. The dramatic incident puts both their plans on hold as Isaac continues his journey to California in the hopes of becoming an astrohysicist, unaware that his friend has been arrested for murder and sent to a dangerous prison to await trial.
There are allusions to James Joyce's Ulysses, possibly the most famous stream of consciousness book and also the Bible. The novel begins with a reference to the apostle Silas who journeyed with Paul and who Isaac believes may be chasing him.
Although "The Son" and "American Rust" are thought-provoking books, they are also riveting as the action never stops even though it is interspersed with the character's innermost thoughts. For people intersted in books which make indirect statements about modern civilization and where it is going, these are excellent novels based on history.
The tough Kirkus Review also gave "The Son" a good review.
And for those dreaming of going to college, don't give up hope.
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