Mill Town is a profound story

I grabbed a copy of Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault because I was interested in its focus on Maine’s Mexico and Rumford. And it is all of that, and so much more.

Kerri grew up in Mexico at a time when many mill workers and residents died of cancers and other fatal illnesses caused by pollutants the mill put in the air and water. A bunch of Kerri’s family members died of these illnesses, including her father who worked in the mill. The area’s nickname became Cancer Valley.

The paper mill’s owners always denied their pollutants were causing these illnesses, even when Rumford and Mexico had the most cases in Maine. Kerri eventually married and moved to another state, but she returned often to her mother’s home in Mexico, trying to stop the mill’s dangerous pollutants.

It was during that time that a friend and I fished the Androscoggin River, which the mill filled with dangerous pollutants. We’d often catch dozens of bass just below the mill, but I guess it’s a good thing we never ate any!

While a lot of Kerri’s book focuses on these issues, there are also a lot of good stories about her family and friends. Her focus on the good things about growing up in a small Maine town mirror my own experiences.

The book’s subtitle is Reckoning with What Remains, and there’s plenty of good things, but Ben Fountain’s quote on the front page may be what you’ll remember: “What kind of life have we made for ourselves when the very thing that sustains us also kills us?”

But it’s a quote on the back of the book that really describes it best as a “complex love letter to a hometown.”



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.