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Caitlin R. Kiernan

Roc Horror / Penguin Putnam

US Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-451-45858-3

259 Pages ; $14.00

Date Reviewed: 03-05-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002





The past is always with us. Whether it be in the form of our parents, our grandparents, our own actions or fossilized bits of creatures that lived millions of years ago, slices of time long passed make themselves felt wherever we go. In 'Threshold', Caitlin R. Kiernan evokes the power of the past in the form of a trilobite, prying open a crack to the world beyond ours where form and chaos fight a war incomprehensible to puny drifters. But our world, our present, our form and chaos are also incomprehensible to these characters. Whether they stay in one place or move aimlessly through our cities and towns they are quintessential drifters.

Kiernan is a talented writer, whose prose flows in a style reminiscent of Poppy Z. Brite. It's a self consciously modern style, and her characters are self-consciously modern. Chance Matthews is a skilled paleontologist who is the only living relative left to go through her grandfather's things after his death. She finds fossils that should not exist, suggestions that there is something more in the fossil record than has yet been discovered or accepted by science. She also finds a young drifter who knows more about Chance than she should, and an old flame now hooked up with a new girl. Together they create a whirlwind of twenty-something angst even before things get really weird.

But things do in fact get really weird. The fossils that Chance finds indicate that something outside of our knowledge, outside of the world as we know and accept it -- exists. That's all it needs to do to destroy lives, to bring a whirlwind of chaos to our world, and that's all it wants to do. Kiernan is heading for Lovecraft country, where the modern revivals of long buried ancient beings have terrifying consequences for the humans who encounter them. This being Lovecraft country, one expects at least the tip of the tentacle of a monster, and as the narrative moves on in a rather sedate but angst-filled pace, the reader might doubt that there could be a monster complex and terrifying enough to justify all the buildup. Have no doubt then that Kiernan does offer a generous payoff for all her work. She's obviously been studying not only Lovecraft, but also Charles Fort, John Keel and lots of paleontology. This is a slim book but it is packed with quite a bit of interesting science. Though it reads like a work of horror and evokes a mood of depression and terror, there's actually more science here than in the average space opera. Kiernan has just decided to focus within.

She also focuses on her characters, who for some readers might present a problem. Well, actually lots of problems because these are problem-ridden folks, self-doubting to the edge of the abyss from within which comes the Mighty Whine. But if they are troubled, then it's understandable at least; Chance's grandfather has died, Deacon is a psychic who tends to discover the bad in life rather than the good, Sadie, his new girl is a combination of pure self doubt and determination, while Dancy is a refugee from her mother's murder by something that should not exist. Kiernan gives us everything in streaming prose, like a direct download from the troubled conscience of a teenaged murderer. It's a delicate act, and she just manages to weave together the threads through the same sheer skill and determination that her characters evoke.