The Rust Maidens

The Rust Maidens CoverBack in October, which feels like a million years ago, I did a short review of Gwendolyn Kiste’s And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to find some time to read Kiste’s novel, The Rust Maidens. This past February, which also feels like a million years ago now that Spring is arriving, I finally got to devour it.

In summary, I adored many of the same things in Kiste’s novel that I did in her short fiction. There is a lyrical quality to her prose, and her narrative is filled with metaphors and subtexts for readers to digest. While I haven’t read a vast amount of Shirley Jackson, I have read enough to see parallels to Kiste’s work. So, if you are someone who enjoys Jackson, I think you’ll find The Rust Maidens to your taste.

Reading novels now that I have a graduate degree in writing, I often find myself looking at the structure of books. In The Rust Maidens, the story is told from a single protagonist, Phoebe, but Kiste foregoes a simple linear narrative in favor of one split over two different years, 2008 and 1980. The novel opens with a world-weary Phoebe returning to her hometown of Cleveland in 2008. Since the older Phoebe has already experienced the climax of the story, Kiste can build mysteries to intrigue the reader by teasing revelations to come with the inner monologue of the protagonist. At the end of the first chapter, Kiste leaves readers pondering the two primary questions at the heart of the novel. Who are the Rust Maidens, and what happened to them? These are the questions that will propel readers through the book, but in case that’s not enough to keep you reading, there is a healthy dose of juicy cliffhangers. These are effective in novels because you can always choose to flip to the next page, whereas in television, especially classic network fair, you’re stuck waiting for a period you have no control over.

While I won’t get into deep spoilers, as I feel the secrets of books are for readers to discover and not for reviewers to impart, I do have a few additional thoughts on this novel. I loved the fact that the older Phoebe’s story takes place in 2008, the year of the great recession, which perfectly parallels the economically challenged Cleveland presented in 1980. Kiste’s descriptions of both the settings and the Rust Maidens themselves leave you feeling like you’re covered in grime, in the best kind of way. While the community in which Phoebe grew up in 1980 has significant issues, I loved a moment near the novel’s climax where the reader gets to see that not everyone within that community is as heartless as they seem for a large portion of the tale. There is a tremendous grey quality to the morality of the characters at the heart of this story, and I live for that kind of complexity.

If you’re hesitant to jump into a novel by Kiste because you haven’t read her work yet, I’d advise you to check out her short story, The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary). It’s a fun addition to the mythology of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s got a lot of thought-provoking subtexts, and it’s nominated for a Stoker Award. If you’re already familiar with the works of Gwendolyn Kiste, there’s a world of other great horror writers to explore, a few of which I discuss in my Women in Horror Month article.

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Color Out of Space Review

I got the chance to see Richard Stanley’s 2019 adaptation of The Colour Out of Space (Yes, Lovecraft intentionally spelled color that way for his story) on Wednesday (January 22nd). It was a ton of fun seeing the film with fellow Lovecraft fans, and afterward, my friends and I even did a little movie discussion at an H.P. Lovecraft inspired bar near us, J.B. Lovedrafts. We even saw a special version of the film that included a Q &A with some of the cast and the director.

Since more people seem to watch videos over reading reviews these days, I thought this was a good opportunity to try my hand at a YouTube review. The experience was fun, but I have a lot to learn about presenting a spoken review in front of a camera. I forgot to mention two cool observations, and I didn’t feel I was always as coherent as possible, but I think I still got most of my points across. I also forgot to ask for people who saw the film that hadn’t read the original story to let me know how they felt the film was because I am interested in a non-Lovecraft fan’s perspective.

SPOILER WARNING FOR EVERYTHING BELOW!

If you’re interested, here are the two points I didn’t touch on in the spoiler section that I wanted to. I really liked how the color seemed to affect the members of the family differently. Cage’s character is haunted by a horrible smell, and I loved that particularly because I thought it was probably a reference to the Dunwich Horror, where there’s a line that goes, “as a foulness, ye shall know them,” referring to identifying evil, ancient entities. Also, as my friend Tom pointed out, Lavenia’s character spends most of the film trying to leave the Gardner farm, and at the end of the movie, the color may have granted her wish and teleported her to another world.

 

The Fisherman

The FishermanYesterday, I finished my third book of the new year. I enjoyed John Langan’s short story collection, The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, so much that I wasted almost no time reeling in his most recently published novel, The Fisherman. After consuming the work in under a week, I can safely say that it includes everything I enjoyed in his short fiction while adding new layers of horrifying goodness.

The narrative follows Abe, an extremely likable widower, as he recounts the haunting experiences and myths surrounding the mysterious Dutchman’s Creek. Here I must pause to deliver an amusing anecdote. While listening to The Fisherman via audible, en route to Philadelphia with my wife, I couldn’t help adding my own soundtrack of “Dun Dun DUN” to the story as Abe recounted the first time he heard about Dutchman’s Creek from his friend, Dan. Immediately after I finished my theme, the narration stated, “If this had been a movie, I guess this would’ve been the moment ominous music boomed on the soundtrack.” My wife and I had quite a laugh, but I think that perfectly illustrates how well Langan knows his own story.

While Abe is the primary protagonist, most of the story is relayed by a different character. He is a cook who bears a striking similarity to H.P. Lovecraft. Besides both people being named Howard, the cook is also described as having a lantern jaw, being a writer, and coming from Providence. Putting all those things together paints a very particular picture, and I loved it. Howard relays the spooky story about Dutchman’s Creek’s origin that he was told by a minister, who heard the story from one of his parishioners in a nursing home. Much like a real fishing story, this one comes via several degrees of separation from the teller. As for the origins of Dutchman’s Creek, you’ll have to read The Fisherman yourself to get all the horrifying details, but I can’t help telling you that the antagonist of the novel is a kind of supernatural Ahab set on capturing a sea creature that would put Moby-Dick to shame.

During the novel, there were at least two references to some of Langan’s short fiction that I loved. The first was a kind of magical right of passage that two characters must make to a city patrolled by bird-like figures who should be familiar to those who read Outside the House, Watching for the Crows in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. The second was when Abe passes by the headless statue of a pregnant woman, which readers of Mother of Stone, the closing tale in The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies should recognize. These connections deepened my reading experience and made me hoot with amusement when I came across them.

Alright, I better stop rambling about how much I liked this novel, or we’ll be here forever. In summary, The Fisherman is a great read. It has a protagonist you love (imagine if Pet Sematary was told from the perspective of the kindly neighbor instead of the doctor), a classic Weird narrative (with enough spooky fish to please a resident of Innsmouth), loads of intricately detailed references (to other horror works, Moby-Dick, and more), emotional resonance (anyone who’s ever lost someone will find themselves connecting with the novel’s portrayal of grief), and lastly, it will keep you turning pages toward its appropriately disconcerting ending. I can’t recommend this novel enough if, like me, you’re a horror reader who leans toward the Weird.

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The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of AtuanA Wizard of Earthsea is my favorite fantasy book, not written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was only a matter of time before I read the sequel, The Tombs of Atuan. I went into the book cautiously because I’d heard that the narrative changed the protagonist and took a while to get going. While this is true, the new female protagonist, Tenar, is just as interesting as the last, Ged. Ursula K. Le Guin manages to tell a tale that feels like the other side of A Wizard of Earthsea’s coin. Each book follows a young protagonist finding their place in the world and coming to terms with their own agency and identity. Ged’s journey is about confronting his own potential evil, while Tenar’s is about confronting her own potential good. She’s raised as a priestess of the Nameless Ones, gods who demand sacrifice and darkness. Early in the novel, Tenar accepts the religion that kidnapped her without hesitation and is empowered to decide the fate of trespassers. She’s haunted by her decision through most of the novel. When Ged, the protagonist from the first Earthsea novel, is trapped and at her mercy, she must confront the lies of her religion and the lies she’s told herself. Tenar is a character sheltered by her way of life, and her struggle to confront that way of life is the crux of the novel. Ultimately, The Tombs of Atuan is just as entertaining, enlightening, and powerful as A Wizard of Earthsea. I can’t wait to read the next installment, The Farthest Shore.

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Mistborn

The Mistborn Cover The world of Mistborn immediately enthralled me. Brandon Sanderson’s magic system is incredibly well codified. The plot, a group of high-class thieves are trying to “Ocean’s Eleven” the world’s dark lord out of his rule, is equally enthralling. Vin, the protagonist, is a classic fantasy chosen one, she rises from humble roots to a heroic destiny, and I enjoyed following her adventure. My only warning to future Mistborn readers is to beware of the novel’s middle section. I struggled through it because the plot remains relatively static while Vin attends several fancy-dress balls. These balls are filled with good political intrigue, but it just seemed like there were a few too many, and I felt like the rest of the novel flew by once the plot kicked back in. I would’ve preferred if Sanderson lingered in some of the climactic moments instead of the ball scenes. Aside from that, I loved virtually everything else. I’d certainly read more of Brandon Sanderson’s work, and I’d love to dive back into the world he crafted in Mistborn. It feels both incredibly original and yet perfectly mythic.

Also, there is a board game called Mistborn: House War, based on this series, and I’ve already expressed my love for tabletop gaming in my article The Narrative Appeal of Board Games, so I will have to find a copy to play.

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