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, including three generations of Arsenault’s own family. Years after she moved away, Arsenault realized the price she paid for her seemingly secure childhood. 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, earning the area the nickname “Cancer Valley.”
Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains
(St. Martin's Press, 2020) is an personal investigation, where Arsenault sifts through historical archives and scientific reports, talks to family and neighbors, and examines her own childhood to illuminate the rise and collapse of the working class, the hazards of loving and leaving home, and the ambiguous nature of toxics and disease. Mill Town
is a moral wake-up call that asks, Whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival?
Kerri Arsenault is a book critic, book editor at Orion
magazine, and a contributing editor at The Literary Hub
Brian Hamilton is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he is researching African American environmental history. A Maine native, he lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy. Twitter. Website.