|Gwendolyn Kiste displays her obvious love of language in her Rust Maidens, a tragic story of transformation. Told from the perspective of Phoebe, the story begins in Cleveland, Ohio, USA during the collapse of the steel industry in the early 1980’s. The residents of Denton Street face the unknown. The workers strike for better conditions from their failing steel mill. The housewives drink spiked tea, plan social functions, and gossip. And the youth prepare for their futures. Eighteen-year-old Phoebe longs to escape the oppression of impending ruin with her best friend Jacqueline just after graduation. She has her Impala gassed up and ready to flee, but fate has another plan.
Several young women begin to change, to somehow assume the decay around them, to become a part of the town in an unexpected way. The strange affliction rots their flesh in ways Guillermo del Toro would admire. The rust maidens become dangerous representations of the declining state of the community.
Rebellious and independent, Phoebe never fit the adults’ idea of acceptable. As a kid, she created a sanctuary for insects from her tree house instead of playing with dolls like other girls. Her one true link to the unaccepting town is her cousin Jacqueline. When Jacqueline becomes afflicted with the mysterious curse of the Rust Maidens, Phoebe attempts to save them.
As the strange transformation worsens, government agents fall upon the town to test the girls. The frightened citizens use them as scapegoats for their deteriorating situations. Phoebe never truly loses her love for her friend. Her compassion for the plight of the rust maidens drives her to reckless efforts. Instead of inspiring empathy, the town targets Phoebe, heaping blame on her young shoulders.
Thick with nostalgic detail, The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste evokes an introspective horror, one where our own insecurities could manifest as assimilation into an unrepentant, blinded, and declining community.