Caitlín R. Kiernan
Roc / 272 pages / (November 1, 2001)
Looking over the last hundred years, the number of authors who write literary horror can be counted on one hand. At the top of that shortlist is Caitlín R. Kiernan, the most singular voice to enter the genre since Neil Gaiman popped up in graphic novels and Stephen King made movies live inside books. In the long run, her stunning fiction may have a more lasting effect than either of these publishing giants.
What sets Kiernan’s work apart is the characters who populate her dark tales of terror. This is not a case of your average middle-class Joes or Josettes; these are people existing on the fringe. Loyal readers know not to look for happy endings, because these are not happy people — their lives are obscure and steeped in misery. Characters in a Kiernan piece have never had the opportunity for a “normal” life and what they encounters within her pages ensure that they never will.
Take Chance Matthews, a brilliant young woman from a brilliant family with, tragically, no brilliant future ahead of her. Despite the name, she never really had a chance; her shot at happiness ended with another’s accidental discovery that changes Chance’s life forever. The fallout snatches away everything Chance ever loved — well, almost everything — but that threat has returned to destroy what little is left of her. And with it has come a strange girl with an even stranger story.
Threshold is a dazzling and disturbing tale of the dangers we fear and the dangers we don’t know enough to fear. It is those things we refuse to acknowledge and dare not expect that wait for us in the darkness of day and night. And even with the overwhelming, terrible power on the dark ones’ side, these humans present too much of a threat to be ignored and left alone in our own world. Right now, that threat is Chance and the small band of fringe dwellers aligned with her and they cannot be allowed to survive.
Is it asking too much to demand Chance believe in the reality of this danger? Does it matter? Actual or imagined, the unspeakable things that stalk them have had their fatal effect. Like the “monsters” in all of Kiernan’s stunning creations, their existence and exact nature may be in question, but the bottom line never is. What you don’t see can kill you — or worse. In her stories, believe me, there are many things more terrible than death.
Beginning with the instant-classic Silk and continuing through her short fiction to this extraordinary new novel, Kiernan hasn’t missed a step yet. Read her novels, her short stories, her novellas, and her graphic fiction. If you haven’t sampled her work yet, you haven’t really been reading the future of horror and dark fantasy, only its past.