Rust & Stardust: A Novel by T. Greenwood

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And she forgave them their meanness. It was no different than forgiving the sun its heat, the moon its tidal pull. This was simply the nature of girls. She knew they couldn’t help themselves, and oddly, it made her love them all the more.

In Rust & Stardust, T. Greenwood writes a fictionalized account of the true crime story that inspired Nabokav’s Lolita. It’s 1949 in New Jersey and eleven-year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook, her mind willing to commit her own ‘terrible’ crime for the sake of fitting in with girls who never take notice of her. This could be her ‘in’ with them! She nearly makes it out of the store without being busted, when one Frank LaSalle grabs her. He is, he tells her, an F.B.I agent and then manipulates young Sally, using her naivete against her. A freshly released ex-convict he devises a plan that has Sally taking part, unbeknownst to her, in her own, easy kidnapping; like taking candy from a baby. The chosen excerpt above… how it grabbed my heart by relaying just how forgiving and sweetnatured our Sally is, all the more awful what befalls her.

Desperate not to go to prison, she does everything she can to hide her crime from her mother, convincing her she has been invited on a vacation to the shore with her friend.  Hardworking Ella, widowed by her second husbad and suffering from a debiltating condition gives her permission despite any misgivings. LaSalle is practiced in the art of deception,  he has his own ‘cast’ performing their part, assuring his sort of abduction is quiet, no scenes of kicking and screaming to alert anyone, convincing Sally’s mother everything is on the up and up.

The story isn’t so much the part of being taken, it’s everything that follows. It’s witnessing a little girl who is full of shame, clinging to her mother in the before, a mother who is too tired to know something is off, reading along already knowing it’s going to happen and just like Sally and her poor mother Ella not being able to do a damn thing to stop it. It’s being in Sally’s mind as she starts to understand she’s been had. It’s the crushing fact some of us can be consumned by evil in the world, while others go on in their safe bubble. Ella figures out soon enough, despite sunny postcards from Sally, that she has been the worst sort of mother when her oldest daughter Susan and her husband Al begin to question her about the mysterious Mr. Burke.

Sally is Frank’s prisoner, and she is forced to change her name, to follow his rules, brainwashed into good behavior. She is assaulted again and again, swallowed whole, until she accepts this as her ‘new life’. She is no longer the sweet, illuminated little Sally Horner- she is forever Florence Fogg, or something in-between. Frank creates an entire new identity for her, complete with school. He is her ‘daddy’ now, and why doesn’t anyone notice the wrongness of it all, she wonders, where is her rescue, her salvation?

In her new role, the reader keeps waiting for her to tell. But being a good girl is costly, Sally/Florence has always obeyed, as good girls are taught. The adults around her complicit, because they too have their own dirt to keep hidden. Back home, her one almost friend Vivi feels Sally’s absence ‘like a missing tooth‘. Learning too soon what all children should never know, that ‘terrible things happen’, that the world can be ugly. The adults don’t have all the answers, they are just as helpless as Sally on the day she was taken. There aren’t any real ‘safe’ places. If the worst happens, mommy and daddy may not be able to save you.

Florence goes to school, then she makes an adult friend, and we beg please… please someone, anyone save her. Everyone they encounter and befriend knows something isn’t right but don’t do enough. It was a safer world then but these ‘sort of things’ just didn’t happen much. There weren’t milk cartons, kids weren’t afraid of playing outside or aware not to trust other adults, as has been ingrained in all the children of my generation and every one that followed. In fact, good boys and girls always obeyed the adults and did what they said or else you’d ‘get it’ from your parents when you got home. Frank doesn’t just violate Sally’s body, he is like a worm in her brain. Greenwood did an excellent job writing about Sally’s sweet innocence, so sure she would be sent before a judge, tried and possibly sent to prison for life (which would shame her family) for stealing a notebook, and back in the 40’s you can be sure stealing something as insignificant as a notebook  felt like a grievous sin to a child. It’s the horror of her gullibility that sank my heart, before the violations she later suffers obliterated any hopes I had left. What a novel! Just a quick nod to the gorgeous cover too. I sat on this novel for months, having read it in the moutains of North Carolina over Christmas. I hated holding off on my review but didn’t want to write one too early. This is definitely a novel to add to your TBR list!

The ending is just as gut wrenching as the rest of the novel. One day Sally was taken, and she never really came back.

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

 

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