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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Culture Consumption: February 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games — most of which was heavily inspired by my deep dive into Women in Horror Month.

Books

Fledgling by Octavia E. ButlerOctavia E. Butler’s Fledgeling is the story of a 53-year old black vampire who looks like a 12 year old girl. When the story opens, Shori has no memory of who or what she is — all she knows is that she is wounded, starving, and lost. As she heals, she begins to dig into her past in an attempt to discover who she is and who tried to kill her. This is one of the most fascinating portrayals of vampires that I’ve read, presenting a unique complex culture with found families based on symbiotic relationships between vampires and humans. There are so many layers here work unpacking: genetic manipulation, power structures, interesting family structures with polyamorous love, and racism, among other things. It makes for a fascinating storyline with complicated, interesting characters. One of those books that’ll go onto my favorites list.

Two other books from my Women in Horror reading were also phenomenal: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant (a brutal mermaid story discussed here) and Things Withered by Susie Moloney (a stunning collection of short stories discussed over here).

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

(I have interviews with both Isobel O’Hare and Sara Ryan that I’ll be sharing soon.)

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: February 2019”

Culture Consumption: January 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

 

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

I also completed Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It was a fantastic read, so I wrote a bit of a post about why I loved the story and characters.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2019”

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”

Culture Consumption: December 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar

I read two phenomenal (if very different) poetry collections this month, A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar. In her book, Yoon reflects on the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, considering not only the history of sexual slavery, but also its ongoing impact. On the other hand, Bodnar uses imagery from horror cinema in her chapbook to delve into the dilemma of female power.  I also interviewed both poets about their work — Yoon on the New Books in Poetry podcast and Bodnar on my blog.

Another book I loved this month was Ted Chiang’s stunning short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. These stories present beautiful contemplations of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty — with characters who pursue knowledge and understanding. It’s lovely and I’ve written more on this over here.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: December 2018”