Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work grows more ambitious every year, and at the same time becomes more compulsively readable. This latest collection is her most impressive yet, providing a fair sampling of her best stories from the past five years, along with a fascinating preface that describes Kiernan’s own brushes with the bizarre, the inexplicable, and – well, the Fortean. Like Charles Fort before her, Kiernan demonstrates a passion for the mysterious coupled with the knowledge that to look closely at the world is to become deeply unsettled.
In her remarkable Dandridge Cycle – a trilogy of stories that includes ‘‘A Redress for Andromeda’’, ‘‘Nor the Demons Down Under the Sea’’, and ‘‘Andromeda Among the Stones’’ – Kiernan ranges across the 20th century to show us visitors to the Dandridge House, a ramshackle, sea-eaten structure on a lonely coast that stands as a gateway to the lethal ocean of another world. The beings on the other side, which clamor to enter our world, are never glimpsed directly, which only serves to heighten their menace – they are known primarily by their effects on their guards. Kiernan brilliantly depicts the corrosive mental and physical consequences of such guardianship on her human characters.
The presence of other worlds is a frequent motif in this collection, as is the notion that the inhabitants of such worlds are not so much malicious as inimical, their utter alienness and indifference to human concerns the source of real danger. ‘‘Standing Water’’ is a brilliant slice-of-life about bookstore employees who find a strange puddle behind their store. Their fascination and fear are equally useless, and understanding eludes them; like the puddle at its center, the story has vast depths. The characters in ‘‘Onion’’ are desperate to reach another world they’ve only glimpsed, which they imagine as a better place; it is reminiscent of M. John Harrison’s ‘‘A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium’’ in its concentrated longing and misery. Other realms brush against our own in ‘‘La Peau Verte’’, a long original story about an actress hired to play the part of a fairylike forest creature at an absinthe party. The experience stirs childhood memories, and she begins to see unlikely connections between her youth and her present circumstances. This story was reputedly written entirely under the influence of absinthe, and if so, the green muse didn’t hamper Kiernan’s voice – it is one of her most moving stories to date.
‘‘The Dead and the Moonstruck’’ is about a secret world that exists alongside our own, particularly the society of ghoulish ‘‘hounds’’ and their stolen human children that Kiernan has explored in recent books. Here, in her first attempt at a young adult story, Kiernan tells of a peculiar rite of passage for one of the Cuckoo children. Other secret worlds brush against our own in ‘‘Apokatastasis’’, where a woman is haunted by something like a ghostly dog, and in the impeccably written ‘‘Spindleshanks (New Orleans, 1956)’’, where a troubled couple on holiday tangentially encounter a supernatural menace of uncertain origin and motives.
Besides Charles Fort, the obvious influence on Kiernan’s work is H.P. Lovecraft, with his inverted sense of wonder, his stories of primal and cosmic horrors beyond human understanding. But while Kiernan acknowledges and embraces her influences, she is not constrained by them, and her voice has become one of the most singular and recognizable in contemporary dark fiction. While Lovecraft’s lesser imitators focus on the external – tentacles, forbidden texts, ghastly rituals – Lovecraft’s true heirs understand that effective horror stories do not depend on stage decorations but on subtler effects, and Kiernan is foremost among those heirs. When Kiernan contemplates Lovecraft’s and Fort’s visions of a mysterious, dangerous universe, and puts the stories down in her own breathtaking prose, the results are extraordinary.
Also, I've had people asking to see the monster doodle sculpture, which actually came out far, far better than I'd expected. This means I will be doing more of them. I hope to have time to make another sometime this week. They seem to require about four or five days work, total. I'm thinking we'll auction the next one with a book and then perhaps auction a third one without a book, just the mds. All proceeds go to keep the platypus off the street. Truthfully, I love this guy so much that I'm sorry he's already sold. The photos are behind the cut (if you're reading this on LJ; if not, click here and scroll down):
Media used: paper clay, acrylic (paint), glass, acrylic polymer emmulsion.
One big purple eye!
Measurements: 6.5 cm. from pseudopod to pseudopod (width); 3.5 cm (height).
Apparently, Atlanta is aspiring to be Seattle. This afternoon, it's 78F and the humdity's at 80%. More rain on the way. We've set out pots of dessicant and have the AC blasting to try to make things a little less dank inside. Hopefully, this weird weather will go elsewhere soonish.
And Marilyn Monroe "slept" with Joan Crawford. Who'd have thought such a thing (besides me, I mean).
And thank you, Jerome.
And, also, finally, if you don't already have a copy of my short sf novel The Dry Salvages (or if you have need of a second copy), please have a look at eBay auctions. There's one there, looking for a good home.