Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Threshold - Caitlin R. Kiernan

2001; 312 pages.  Genre : Cozy Horror.  New Author? : Yes.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

"I can see monsters," says Dancy Flammarion, the mysterious albino girl who wanders into Chance Matthews' life to solicit her help in dealing with them.  And a couple of Chance's Goth friends as well.

But are the monsters just in Dancy's head?  She's been in institutions, you know.  And if they are real, why the heck would they hang out in Birmingham, Alabama of all places?

What's To Like... 
Caitlin R. Kiernan has a distinctive writing style - in the present tense, and with lots of compound adjectives - about one per paragraph.  Some examples : velvetsoft, shoescuffed, housesifted, syrupslow, dustysafe, birdnervous.

The main cast of characters are fun-to-get-to-know anti-heroes, who for the most part don't have their sh*t together.  They drink, smoke, get stoned, and break into places they shouldn't enter just for the fun of it.  Though interestingly, Chance eschews the tobacco.

Hey, the book has lots of Paleontology in it; how kewl is that?!  And if you don't know much about Paleontology, there's a helpful appendix at the back.  If you don't care about Paleontology, there's still some good news.  The enjoyment of Threshold doesn't really hinge on it.

Kewlest New Word...
Travertine : a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs, especially hot springs.  (Wiki it for some kewl images).

    "Why are you a drunkard?" Dancy asks, finally turning away from the window, swiveling around to face him.  "Because you don't like hearing what the angels say, what they show you?"
    "There are no g*dd*mn angels!"
    "It doesnt matter what you call them," she says so calm, so confident.  "My momma said they usually don't care."  (pgs. 110-111)

    "We can't have people sleeping on the grass," the old woman says, and now she sounds as bewildered as she sounds indignant.  "This is a House of God.  We can't have people sleeping on the grass."
    "I'm sorry," Dancy says, and the sprinkler sweeps back over her, a few seconds of rain, and then it's gone again.  "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
   ""Well, okay," the old woman mumbles.  "Okay I guess, but you understand that we can't have people sleeping here,"  (pg. 151)

"Some stories don't have endings ... in some stories, there arent't even answers."  (pg. 259)
This is what I can only call a "Cozy Horror" story - most of the killing is done off-stage or recounted via flashback.  While that's certainly novel, I found it to be kind of an oxymoron.  If you want to scare me, I need some in-my-face action and violence.

    A lot of people hated the ending, but I found it to be non-trite and unforeseen.   It did feel "rushed" however, particularly with regard to our clique of anti-heroes.  It's also possible that their fate is taken up in some sequel that I'm unaware of.

   There are a lot of things - the present tense, the adjectives, the Gothiness, the science, the cozy horror, the ending - that will be hit-or-miss for the reader.  This was only Caitlin Kiernan's second novel, so her writing may well have evolved with time.  For me, the "likes" outpaced the "meh".  I'd give the Style a "9", and the Story a "5".  That averages out to 7 Stars.

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