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May
29
2024
Literary Arts

Author Rachel Eve Moulton will return to her hometown of Yellow Springs to read from her newly released second novel, “The Insatiable Volt Sisters,” on Sunday, April 16, 3–5 p.m., at the Emporium. (Photo from www.rachelevemoulton.com)

‘The Insatiable Volt Sisters’ | Rachel Eve Moulton debuts novel

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In Rachel Eve Moulton’s new novel, “The Insatiable Volt Sisters,” its focal characters are held by a strong tie to their hometown — a tie that is ineffable, uncanny and, at times, dangerous.

As Moulton told the News last week, she, like her characters — minus the danger and suspense — feels linked to the village where she was born and came of age. In some ways, she said, she was not only brought up in Yellow Springs, but by Yellow Springs — particularly when it came to her writing.

Now living in New Mexico, Moulton will return to the village Sunday, April 16, to read from “The Insatiable Volt Sisters,” which was released this month by Macmillan Publishers. The reading will be held at the Emporium.

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Moulton told the News that as a student at the Antioch School, which she attended through fourth grade, she already knew where her professional life was headed.

“Memory is fallible, but my memory is being in Bill Mullins’ Older Group classroom, and we were going around talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up,” Moulton said. “I said I wanted to be a writer and a teacher.”

She held true to that desire: After earning a bachelor’s degree from Antioch College and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Emerson College, she went on to teach in Rhode Island and Ohio, including at the Miami Valley School. After publishing pieces in literary journals over the years, Moulton’s first novel, “Tinfoil Butterfly,” was released in 2019.

The arc of Moulton’s writing life, she said, is tethered to the village. Her parents, current residents Hays Moulton and Kathy Verner Moulton, had been initially drawn to town as Antioch College students and enfolded themselves — and the young Moulton — in a vibrant community of artists. Some of those same folks, Moulton said, supported her own artistic growth.

“There were so many people who were passive and active mentors in Yellow Springs,” Moulton said.

She listed several well-known local writers as having filled mentoring roles, including Don Wallis, former editor of the News; television writer Suzanne Clauser; novelist Sandy Love, who co-founded the Antioch Writers Workshop;   and poet, fiction writer and former News columnist Susan Streeter Carpenter, who died last month and to whom “The Insatiable Volt Sisters” is dedicated.

“I grew up around all this lore in Yellow Springs about what it meant to be an artist, but more specifically a writer,” Moulton said. “It was a really lovely way to grow up.”

Some of Moulton’s earliest work can be found in the archives of the News. Having grown up “very close” with the Wallis family — she and Jessica Wallis were “best friends, sisters,” and one of her first jobs was delivering the News to subscribers — Moulton said Don Wallis was “really encouraging” of her burgeoning craft.

“[Wallis] would give me journals, he would edit all my stuff,” she said. “From a young age, he was really supportive.”

In particular, Moulton pointed to an opinion piece she wrote when she was 11 years old during the contentious villagewide debate over the yet-to-be-built bike path in the late 1980s; at the time, locals were divided over hailing the bike path’s installation as a move toward nonmotorized transportation and decrying the destruction of some local flora that the path’s construction would require.

“Of course I love the bike path, but at the time, I wrote a dramatic piece about it ruining the environment,” Moulton said. “[Wallis] published it.”

The adults in her sphere, Moulton added, took her and her writing seriously; they didn’t treat her as a young person dabbling in something outside her grasp, but as an artist working to shore up her craft.

“One of the things that Yellow Springs was really good at was that it actually did let me grow up,” she said. “So here’s [Julia Reichert], who is an award-winning filmmaker, and I’m her friends’ baby — but by the time I’m in my 20s, I’m in a writers group with her. Suzanne Clauser probably saw me as a baby, but then she gave me feedback on my writing as a peer. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

When she was in her 20s, Moulton said, Susan Streeter Carpenter invited her to a writing retreat on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie. The group of writers, mostly from the Cleveland area, spent their residency on the island in a house that abutted a defunct quarry.

“It was this weird old house on this weird old island — and it was off-season, so the island probably seemed even weirder,” Moulton said. “I kind of fell in love.”

That love infuses the pages of “The Insatiable Volt Sisters,” which takes place on the fictional Fowler Island. Like Kelleys Island, Fowler Island is surrounded by Lake Erie, only reachable by ferry, and has a very small community of year-round inhabitants; its economy, once bolstered by limestone mining, is predominantly based on tourism. The book’s titular characters, sisters Beatrice and Henrietta Volt, grow up on the island in a large, eerie house called Quarry Hollow, which  — like the house of Moulton’s writers’ retreats — looms on the edge of an old quarry.

“When I fall in love with a space, I get kind of obsessed,” Moulton said. “Then I fill it with story and characters.”

The Volt sisters, who call one another “B.B.” and “Henrie,” were parted in their adolescence for reasons that become clear — both to the reader and to the characters themselves — as the novel progresses. The story leaps back and forth between the summer of 1989, when Henrie left the island with her mother, Carrie; and the spring of 2000, when B.B. and Henrie reunite on Fowler Island following the death of their father.

That death stirs up old, uncanny memories for the sisters, as well as for Carrie and for the island’s local history curator, Sonia. The four take turns as narrators, regaling readers with tales of the women who regularly go missing on Fowler Island and of the seemingly predestined purposes the island has in store for the sisters — as it has had for all of their forebears.

“The Insatiable Volt Sisters” oscillates between growing senses of both hope and dread, unraveling a tale of generational trauma and the power — and limitations — of the women’s love.

Moulton said that, as a writer, she is “very interested in how we pass on story and how we pass on trauma.” She’s also interested in “women’s issues,” she said, and described both of her novels as “feminist horror” — though, she said, she didn’t at first consider her work to be horror-centric.

“I’m not setting out to scare people — I’m setting out to explore relationships, and the idea of how we support each other, particularly as people who identify as female,” she said. “When my editor told me, ‘I think what you’re doing is writing feminist horror,’ that hit well with me.”

Moulton added that, in addition to her time on Kelleys Island, “The Incredible Volt Sisters” owes its strong sense of place to its author having come of age in Yellow Springs. In their shared youth, B.B. and Henrie run the streets of Fowler Island with a kind of autonomy and a deep familiarity with their small community, and its long history, that Moulton said were akin to her experiences in Yellow Springs.

“I feel like I’ve been in every house in that town — at one point, I had keys to seven different businesses,” she said. “So the layers of story that come out of that are very, very rich.”

She added: “I think [growing up in Yellow Springs] was really important in how I view coming-of-age. … I really liked growing up in a place that had a history and was interested in stories.”

Rachel Eve Moulton will read from “The Insatiable Volt Sisters” Sunday, April 16, 3–5 p.m., at Emporium Wines and Underdog Cafe, with an introduction by author Katrina Kittle.

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