In a marvelous, winning metaphor, Margaret Shaw, the protagonist of Julie Mars’s “Rust,” wants to learn to weld. Ms. Shaw, a New York artist with more talent than accomplishment, has tired of tending bar, and removed herself to New Mexico. She finds herself at Rico Garcia’s auto shop, and asked if he would teach her. What follows this seemingly random meeting is anything but random, as Ms. Mars takes us through its wake, full of searching, full of hope and fear, and eventually redemption.
Margaret was effectively orphaned as a little girl when her parents traveled to India and wound up in prison. Ever since, she has kept herself wrapped tightly against the world, fearing further loss. She seeks Rico’s instruction, and finds a bit more. Not too much more, but the two become friends amid some fairly strong attraction. Rico’s own history has its rocky patches, not quite on the scale of Margaret’s, but they push him toward the gringa with a fair amount of force.
It isn’t very often that I’m moved to tears at the end of a book, but this one definitely did it for me. Ms. Mars has crafted a fine and satisfying conclusion – actually I wish it had a little more, but understand its construction and intent, and accept it. Well, “accept” is far too passive a term for my feeling about this book and its conclusion. It’s a compulsive page-turner with sympathetic characters and tense, carefully-balanced plot; I embrace it and the plainspoken truths about how rust accumulates on its characters’ hearts and emotions. A superior piece of storytelling, this novel will pull you along with its tone, its perfect pace, and its emotional truth. As satisfying as its payoff is, you will assuredly enjoy the journey just as much. Look for it in February 2012, and pounce!