Caitlín R. Kiernan

Roc / 353 pages / Reprint, November 2002


Call it “gothic horror,” but don’t even think of grouping it in your mind with Dracula, haunted castles and things that come out only in the absence of light. This is something far more terrifying than that. Something not blunted by centuries of folklore and midnight screenings. The familiar monsters that trigger cued screams and spilled popcorn are paper dolls beside the horrors in Silk.

Kiernan drags us more and more reluctantly into a new gothic world of her own devising. Imagine the goths you see strolling through the shopping malls, the industrial punks you see comparing Doc Marten’s — all the outcasts, desperate to be different, starving for attention. They’re in here. There is not one character in Silk who is not an outcast. The entire cast could be dropped on the Island of Misfit Toys, but even there they would be too twisted to belong.

And yet, willfully repellent as these characters are, Kiernan soothes us into caring about them. Junkies and Robert Smith look-alikes — most readers will try to retreat from them and the strange world they inhabit. Ignore that instinct, because it’s going to get you nowhere, and in the end, you will long to shelter them from the darkness you see approaching. Within their black leather and constant sneers, they are such delicate creatures, so in need of protection. And we must watch them through a glass screen that seems woefully thin to shield us.

It is protection they need, and it is Spyder they turn to. Spyder, with her twisted past and her damaged mind. Spyder, who attracts them like her namesake and wraps them in a deadly web even she doesn’t appear to know she is spinning.

This is not your father’s horror novel; this is genuine, gut-deep fear

A cover blurb promises “Silk will change the texture of modern horror forever.” For once, it is the truth. But, only if publishers and readers are willing to accept this re-weaving. Only if we can let go the sensual vampires and the Big Names and open the door to our real nightmares. And take a chance on an unknown quantity.

Kiernan is uniquely herself, but even if you miss the endorsement by Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Neverwhere), you cannot fail to see the kindred spirit that flows through their writing. I feel no risk in voicing the opinion that if you enjoy (that may be an odd word to use for such grim material) one, you will relish the other. And, if we’re very fortunate, the unknown writers to follow in their wake.

A warning should be superfluous at this point, but here it is: Silk is strictly adult material. Every page is disturbing, grim, and violent; the only way this story could be told. Junkies, incestuous psychotics, and sadists wait behind every turn of the page. Surviving them will make you stronger, but I won’t guarantee you will survive. Or sleep with the lights out ever again.