When I saw Task 22 for Book Riot’s Read Harder 2020, I wasn’t thrilled–but that’s kind of the point, right? To challenge yourself to read outside your comfort zone? But… “Read a horror book published by an indie press”? Horror? Really? I dutifully checked out the list of suggestions, and found a couple that sounded interesting to me, including several that would also work for Reading My Way. The Rust Maidens is set in Cleveland, Ohio. (Seed by Ania Ahlborn is set in Louisiana and is still on my list for when I get there.) And, for the squeamish, this is a good horror book. There is plenty of atmosphere, and tons of suspense, but not blood and gore. And it’s in many ways more of a mystery/thriller than a horror–it’s more a question of why this is happening than of who it will strike next (although there is the extra tension of the possibility of it happening again in the present timeline).
I am reading my way across the USA–5 or so books set in each state, with an emphasis on those where the setting is another character in the book or where we learn something about the geography, history, and/or people of the state. We are just starting Ohio.
The Rust Maidens was an enjoyable read, and it certainly gave us a look at parts of Cleveland–its industry, the lake shore, and the people. But I was somewhat disappointed in this book. I felt that the suspense dragged out a bit too long. I lost track of the number of times the narrator referred to what happened “that night” as being key or the turning point but then it turned out there was another night after that. And another. And another. To the point where the climax happened almost before I realized this was really “that night.”
And although I figured out what caused the changes pretty early on, I kept thinking there had to be more–that it had to be more complex than that. But it wasn’t… But it should have been or why was it so isolated to this one neighborhood in Cleveland? There are plenty of neighborhoods like this throughout the Rust Belt, so why not near the GE plant in Schenectady? Or in multiple steel mills–in Pittsburgh and Toledo. Or even the meth-ridden town in Shine by Lauren Myracle, which we read for North Carolina? Or some of the locales in Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum? (Both North Carolina and Kansas are outside the Rust Belt, but we certainly saw similar bleakness and loss of hope.) Or a hundred other possible settings?
That said, though, it was superbly done and quite clear despite never being written explicitly. But, in terms of this challenge–and of getting to know Ohio and Cleveland, and what makes them different than those hundred other possible settings–this book didn’t quite get there.
The Rust Maidens follows its narrator as she returns to her Cleveland neighborhood and remembers the events of thirty years before, when the novel’s mysterious happenings occurred. Most of the fathers in the neighborhood where she grew up worked at the local steel mill. The 1970s and ’80s was a period of economic recession that hit the steel industry hard. The worker’s unions were periodically on strike as they tried to negotiate with an industry that was struggling with downsizing and closing mills in cities across the Rust Belt, including Cleveland.
As I noted above, this is very similar to what was happening in the steel towns in Pennsylvania, and I didn’t feel that Kiste gave us a good feel for how Cleveland is different from those towns. But, overall, I think The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste was a pretty good fit for this challenge–we definitely get a good feel for some of the hopelessness of the Rust Belt, and that hopelessness permeates the book, just like a well-done setting should.
(Note: #COVIDreading, #2020sucks)