Paul Hertneky is one of millions of baby boomers who fled the industrial north upon fulfilling his parents’ dreams of a college education. He returns to his roots in Ambridge, Pennsylvania in this collection of stories specific to one legendary riverfront plateau and one boy’s journey, but emblematic of immigrant life and blue-collar aspirations during the heyday of American industry and its crash, foreshadowing one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history.
The Keene Sentinelhttps://www.sentinelsource.com/life_and_style/books/you-can-go-home-again/article_42f3c822-4981-5de2-919d-9804338fb2e6.html
Author Paul Hertneky’s new memoir is a graceful accounting of a young life rich in its preservation of memory and its recall of loss. It is evidence that while you can go home again, no matter Thomas Wolfe’s words many years ago, you may well find the twist of the past and the present escorting you on an unexpected journey of discovery, a journey of often bittersweet delights.
National Book Award winner and author of Pulitzer finalist, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.
I loved it. I haven’t read a book in many years that made me feel so wistful, and grateful, as Rust Belt Boy. Given my own family history—my grandfather was a Pennsylvania coal miner who barely spoke English, my grandmother ran a Prohibition era saloon on the banks of the Susquehanna River—I felt Hertneky was writing a love letter to my own boyhood, and at the same time a Dear John letter, telling me goodbye to all that. If you’re one of the six million baby boomers who walked away from a dying hometown, read this book and remember another America.
author of The Gutenberg Elegies and The Other Walk
The inside truth of a life, or a culture–of anything–cannot be tricked together. It has to grow from what’s been bred in the bone and tested in the day’s real living. Paul Hertneky’s Rust Belt Boy has the savor of that living. It is a rueful, bittersweet expression of loss and a brave reenactment of memory.
author of The Soul of an Octopus, National Book Award finalist
Rust Belt Boy brings to life, in loving, lyric detail, an essential but overlooked portrait of America’s blue collar heart. Paul Hertneky is a splendid writer, by turns hilarious, tough, and tender. He’s always honest, often revelatory, and never disappointing; his book deserves to become a classic.
Boomer Memoirs: Social Science Reviews
Freelance journalist Hertneky’s Rust Belt Boy grapples with events of his generation with an examination of his Steel Belt hometown, Ambridge, PA, a Pittsburgh suburb, after the steel turned to rust and the “Burgh Diaspora” occurred. Taught in school to look—optimistically—to the future, instead of back at the area’s history and cultural vibrancy, Hertneky reports in a series of thoughtful essays on the traditions of ethnicity, religion, and family that have shaped the community named after the American Bridge Company. Despite the reluctance of longtime residents and aging relatives to tell stories about the old days, Hertneky concludes that the town’s formative narratives are carried within him and others, serving as a force in the region’s rebirth.
Essayist Hertneky focuses his first book on his childhood in the steel town of Ambridge, Pa., “with its ethnic enclaves and round-the-clock factories.” He combines his memories with sections on the history of the town to produce a memoir that is both a coming-of-age story and a social history of the growth, death, and rebirth of a rust belt community. He talks lovingly about the strong role Catholicism played in his family during the 1960s, where he “felt embraced at the heart of this world where children were seen as divine gifts.” He also provides a fascinating look at how the town itself was founded in the spirit of communal millennialism embodied by the Harmony Society, a group with origins in Germany that existed in Pennsylvania from 1805 to 1905. He is honest, insightful, and empathetic about the rough life of many of the people who worked in nearby Aliquippa’s steel works, which “gobbled up mile and mile of shoreline.” Most successfully, Hertneky depicts his own trajectory from the town to college and beyond in parallel with the history of Ambridge’s “grand schemes and redemptive dreams.”
Over twenty-five years, Paul Hertneky has written stories, essays, and scripts for the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, NBC News, The Comedy Channel, Gourmet, Eating Well, Traveler’s Tales, The Exquisite Corpse, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Adbusters, and many more. His work centers on culture, food, industry, the environment, and travel, winning him a Solas Award, and two James Beard Award nominations. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, he serves on the faculty of Chatham University.