Book Love: The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

Description: “It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.”

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing about The Rust Maidens for a while now, the book continually recommended by others in my social media feed as a stunning work of horror. Having now read it myself, I can whole heartedly agree with each and every one of these observations.

The story takes on body horror with young women at the center. This seems a natural progression, since, as the book illustrates, young women’s bodies are already not their own. One of the aspects of this book is how the mother’s rule the block, meeting out rules, structures, and punishments for their girls. When one of the girls gets pregnant, it’s the mother’s who decide what to do with her and her baby, regardless of what the girl wants (the boy is also irrelevant in this). So, when the young women’s bodies begin to change, taking on the oily, glass-strewn decay of the city, it goes from seeming to be a strange disease at first to seeming like an act of defiance. All the wrongs quickly become cast onto the shoulders of these girls, who dare to be anything other than the kinds of girls people expect them to be.

Maybe that’s why Phoebe remains untouched by this metamorphosis — she’s already something other than the kind of girl she’s expected to be. We see the story from her point of view — both during the events and long after. All at once, she is both horrified by the changes she sees in her cousin and the other girls, and awed by them, finding a strange beauty in their transformations. She holds so many levels of loss and guilt, feeling she’s made all the wrong choices along the way. I love her as a character, not because she’s perfect — she’s far from that — but because she comes off as so human, housing anger, sorrow, and compassion for the people and community around her.

This story is so touchingly beautiful on so many levels, providing a blend of deep, unsettling horror with human love and hope. I particularly love the way the relationships between these girls changes and evolves over the course of this story. It’s just so, so good. As soon as I read the last page, I clutched the book to my chest and just held it. I’ll be looking for all the things by Kiste in the future.

If you want to get some more insight into Kiste’s process writing The Rust Maidens and her love of horror, the Darkness Dwells podcast has a great interview.


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Women in Horror: Things Withered by Susie Moloney

Things Withered by Susie Moloney

Things Withered is a brilliant collection of short horror stories, in which Susie Maloney plays on the anxieties of everyday life to deliver horrifying chills. Whether it’s the need to hold onto a job, unfortunate deaths in the neighborhood, or competition between friends, the drive of each story is grounded in human beings with their own frustrations so that by the time things get really weird, the reader is already on edge.

Take, for example, “The Audit,” in which a young woman faces a growing mountain of paperwork as she attempts to prepare for being audited by the IRS. Taxes are an ordinary kind of fear, but the story manages to build an increasing tension through the escalating mountain of papers that need to be addressed combined with the indifference of the people around her.

In “Petty Zoo,” a mother and her son are stationed in a line of families waiting to get into a mall petting zoo that is more than an hour late from opening. The growing anger and annoyance of the parents, who are caught between their desperation to keep their children happy and their their own desire to leave is the vivid center point — at least until things go terribly, terribly wrong.

Another kind of anxiety is offered up in “Poor David, or, The Possibility of Coincidence in Situations of Multiple Occurrences.” David has the misfortune of finding the dead body of his girlfriend’s aunt, a traumatic experience that’s quickly compounded by the discovery of another body. There is nothing suspicious about these deaths, all due to natural circumstances — and yet it seems to be David’s misfortune to discover them. The story beautifully portrays his escalating anxiety, which makes it difficult for him to function in the world. And yet, it’s also about his relationship with Myra and how the two of them continue to build a life together through this trauma.

“Reclamation on the Forrest Floor” also deals with relationships, in this case between two girlfriend and the brutal outcome of their ongoing competition with each other. The story opens with murder and evolves into a stunningly written body horror as the consequences of that act reveal themselves.

Some of my favorite stories in the collection, are those that features older women as their protagonists. “The Last Living Summer” is a story of three little old ladies in continue on in a beach town that has emptied out since all their neighbors abandoned the place in the face of a strange, unsettling apocalypse. It’s a story with such melancholy beauty.

In “The Neighborhood, or, To the Devil with You,” a woman who has lived on the same block well into her old age relates the history of her neighborhood, which carries a series of tragedies. With it’s meandering style and “times have changed” tone, the story balances between the events being simply the horrifying misfortunes of an ordinary or all part of some larger, sinister design.

On the whole, Things Withers is a phenomenal collection of stories — highly recommended.


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Reading Women in Horror: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

A group sets out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a documentary examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.

In a way Rolling in the Deep reads like a found footage film, stating from the opening pages that none of the crew or staff who started out on the ship SS Atlantic were ever found. We know from the get-go that something terrible is going to happen — reading the book reveals the how.

The story features a diverse and interesting cast of at least a dozen — between the captain and her deaf first mate, the host and her cameraman, the half a dozen scientists, a troupe of mermaid performers, and the producer of the show. Mira Grant reveals her incredible skill in making these characters feel like people you can care about in an incredibly short timeframe, considering the book is only 120 pages in length. (Well, almost everyone, since I’m pretty sure no one minded much that the producer got his due.) We don’t know everything about each of these people, but we don’t need to. We know that they have pasts and hopes and plans for the future, and it’s enough to make me sad if that future is snuffed out.

I’m not going to tell you what happens at the end, because you should read this book yourself. But I will say this book builds at a perfect pace to a finale that left me with chills. Honestly, I may never swim in the ocean again.

It was revealed in November 2018 that Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary) has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of the book — which is of no surprise. As I was reading, I immediately felt that, with its tight pacing and chilling ending, this was a book destined to be adapted for the screen. I hope it gets made, but we’ll see. Hollywood can be fickle.

Fives Books of Poetry to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl offers up the female personas of characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Southern Cryptozoology by Allie Marini

Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini

I’ve put Southern Cryptozoology on other favorites lists before and will continue to put it on lists, because this chapbook is one of my favorite poetry reads. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh.

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar

Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi

Heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi

Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”

Horror poetry books by women on my TBR:

  • A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng
  • Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Lisa Cheby
  • Love for Slaughter by Sara Tantlinger
  • The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
  • Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb
  • Satan Says by Sharon Olds
  • Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader
  • How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
  • Something in the Potato Room by Heather Cousins
  • Satan’s Sweethearts by Marge Simon and Mary A. Turzillo

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Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V

Here are Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on book five, Wolves of the Calla, and as with all of these posts, there will be so many spoilers.

When I first started reading this series as a teenager, I tore through each of the books, eager to get to the end, only to come to an abrupt halt when I discovered the fifth book had not been written yet. It took Stephen King six years after finishing Wizard and Glass to finish and publish The Wolves of the Calla. During that time, I had lost the thread of the narrative. I always intended to finish reading the series, but it settled comfortably into the back burner and stayed there — until now.

Wolves of the Calla is the first book in the series that’s new to me, and that newness might be why it took me ten months to get around to reading it. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time coming back to stories (TV shows especially), finding myself simultaneously caught between wanting to know the ending to the story and at the same time not wanting to know what happened to the characters. Reading books one to four was comfortable, stepping into the fifth book was a risk, the witness of terrible things, or worse, disappointment in the story or characters.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.

Continue reading “Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V”