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Amos Williamson
The Parable of Rust
The Parable of Rust tells the story of the boom, bust, and recovery of the fictitious factory town of Rust principally from the perspective of three generations of the family which builds, owns, sells, and re-acquires the factory. The factory's lifespan (c. 1970-2010) forms the central plotline and the principal themes are its (and the town's) decay, collapse, and abandonment by its leading family
Williamson’s debut novel is the brief but sweeping saga of the Selbsteiger family and the city-state of Rust–a curious semi-independent state in the American midwest that, due to pre-Civil War politics, never became a state. Not content with his share of a family farm, Norman Selbsteiger builds a Great Lakes shipping company, which initially proves a great success, but bad times arrive when conditions change after the wars. Diversifying to rescue the business, his son Selby starts a widget company, and the family’s fortunes rise again. But the philandering Trey Selbsteiger III possesses talents that lie elsewhere, and with no one to take control, the Selbsteiger fortunes hit an all-time low. Will Norm Selbsteiger IV be able to rescue the family’s, and Rust’s, fortunes?

Written in an expansive style attentive to economics and generational shifts, The Parable of Rust offers a bird’s-eye view of a boom-bust cycle of the industrial Midwest, from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Readers should not expect close analysis of the lives of interesting characters like Trey and his wife, the independent Anne, or the family philanthropist Cornelia. Williamson delves into two interesting conflicts—the dissonance between Trey’s nature and Selby’s concern for the health of the business, and the conflict between Louisa and her daughter-in-law Anne for the upbringing of the latter’s daughter, Drew—but never gives them the close-quarters analysis that makes for compelling drama.

Instead, the novel concerns broader shifts of history, deftly examining the macroeconomic impact of individual business fortunes–and those how those fortunes weathered a tumultuous century. By creating a micro-America in Rust, he attempts to portray the far reaching consequences and ripple effect created by business policies–some of them questionable, if not exactly illegal. Throughout, Williamson’s familiarity with the world of high finance is evident, and his command of the material is convincing.

Takeaway: A multi-generational, economics-minded saga of a Midwestern family, its wealth, and the American century.

Great for fans of: Charles Stiefel’s Skin Saga, Dan Baum’s Citizen Coors.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B