A novel that starts shiny and bright, but, much like its title, begins to rust in its middle, and crumbles away to nothing by the end.
Phoebe returns home after twenty eight years, as her mother is selling the family home to move into a condo, and Phoebe still has belongings to collect. It’s a reluctant return to the town she fled from that fateful summer, when the world seemed to glimmer like the butterflies in her treehouse, before everything changed and the Rust Maidens appeared.
Told in the dual time lines of the present day and twenty eight years ago, the narrative slowly reveals what happened to the young women in the 1980’s, and the aftermath of their legacy.
Deeply metaphorical, it is at times difficult to see past the symbolism of abused young women, abandoned in a rust belt town at a time of job layoffs and depression, both economic and otherwise, to the humanity behind the avatars for female oppression, inconvenience and abuse. The dual narrative seems to suggest that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
From Phoebe’s butterflies, to the unwanted young woman turning into frightful, fragile creatures of weeping glass and metal, every word practically screams with a deeper meaning, building an analogy for attitudes we hope to have left behind, but which don’t seem to have been completely lost.
The first half of this book pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go, leaving me breathless and wondering if I’d found the first 5 star book of the year.
I loved Phoebe, with her parental support, fiery jubilance in flouting convention and her lepidopterist dreams.
I enjoyed the analogy of the girls, outcasts from their society, blots on a dying landscape because of their experiences and resulting mental illnesses.
Unfortunately, the second half of the novel fell apart for me. Phoebe’s perspective was too distant from the Rust Maidens’ to make me feel the visceral horror of their transformation that I craved, and their story was too tragic to make me understand the fear they illicited in the community. Likewise, the reaction of the families was so by the book mob mentality that I wasn’t frightened of their changes either.
Most disappointing of all was Phoebe herself, who seemed to go into a state of suspended animation for twenty eight years, not changing or gathering any insight that colored, or enlightened, her perception of the happenings of her youth. I also found her relationship with a government man, over ten years her senior, highly inappropriate.
The first half gets 4 dogs, the second half 2, so overall I award The Rust Maidens…
The Rust Maidens is available for $5.04 ebook and $17.95 print book on Amazon.