A dark gothic story about the loss of innocence as well as the decline of the American promise. The Rust Maidens splits between two time periods in Cleveland Ohio, a time period when factories are beginning to close and current dilapidated times. I am always attracted to stories like this as I grew up during the 80’s in a failing mill village in South Carolina. The writing is emotional and economic struggle hovers throughout the story even when it is not the primary focus of the narrative. The primary narrative is about a young lady, Pheobe, returning to Cleveland after fleeing the city during some traumatic experiences as she was graduating high school. Some of the young ladies in this declining community began to display bizarre behavior and physical deformities that scared locals into hysterics. The word gets out about the Rust Maidens and even the Federal government comes into investigate. No one really knows what is going on. Phoebe is a main character who’s cousin and best friend Jaqueline becomes one of the Rust Maidens. The “illness” changes their friendship and tears them apart leading Pheobe to flee. She returns in current times to check in on her ailing father requiring her to face what she ran from before.
The milieu in this story is bleak and brutal but there is a sense of love and community holding some aspects together. The book does not let you forget bad things happen and life requires a certain strength and acceptance to keep plowing ahead. The symbolism and allegory were definitely my favorite overall take from the book. The “horror” is subtle but it is there and will linger after finishing the book. If you enjoy gothic weird fiction then check out this book. I will definitely be giving Gwendolyn Kiste another try. I discovered the author and book due to it being on one of my favorite publishers of 2018.