16 January 2005 by Published in: entertainment No comments yet

Well, I’ve looked at the list of book reviews I want to write and two are for short story collections – which will probably involve typing a table of contents – and one is for a novel. So guess which one I’m going to do? Yes, the novel. It should be easier. I first found Caitlin R. Kiernan through her blog where she talks a lot about writing. Well, mostly grouses, but sometimes says some useful things (grousy and useful are not mutually exclusive anyways). At any rate, she often refers to how frustrating it is to write stuff that no one understands, and how reviewers and readers are constantly referring to her work as difficult to follow. Don’t believe the hype. There’s nothing particularly obtuse about her style, her plot, her characters or anything else within the covers of this slim volume. Threshold even has a glossary to help you with the scientific language. I’ll admit there’s some ambiguity involved in the story but truly, it’s not hard to follow what’s happening nor whom it’s happening to, and the story requires ambiguity to succeed. It does succeed. I was entertained and pulled into the world feet first and I cared about the characters. I particularly liked the way Kiernan used heat and light as oppressive forces. Few writers can make broad daylight seem quite as terrifying as she does in this book. In terms of atmosphere, this book was superb.

I also generally liked Kiernan’s prose. There was a simplicity, exactness, and poetry to her words that I very much admire. However, she does have one writing idiosyncracy that many others have commented on but I must also point to, because it was distracting. She pulls adjectives together to create new wordlets, usually with synaesthetic overtones. In every instance that I noticed one of these compound words I stopped (and to her credit, I didn’t always, and sometimes her conjoined words fit perfectly and seamlessly) and re-read the sentence several times. While I understand the limitations of language, especially to a visual author which Kiernan clearly is, and I also understand the desire to stretch and reform language to your own voice, I usually didn’t see the need for these agglomerations. The sentences would have painted just as clear a picture if the words had been their separate entities, used in the standard way. I’m not someone who thinks there’s no room for experimentation in writing but I must admit to being continuously pulled out of the tale by the pushedtogether words. That said, it was a small thing, and didn’t deter from my enjoyment of the book overall.

I occasionally found the dialog to be a little eye-rolling and unbelievable as well, and I’ll admit I held a grudge against some of the dialog because it often chopped up bits of lovely prose with a lot of verbal equivocation and stumbling about. I would not have stopped suspending my disbelief if the characters had been just the teeniest, tiniest bit more eloquent than they were and it would have eased my anger at them for interrupting the flow of things with their pointless jabber. That’s probably a totally personal viewpoint, though, and not terribly valid as analysis of the piece.

The ending was a slight let down for me, in that it seemed almost too easy. I didn’t find it terribly confusing or as vague and open-ended as everyone else seemed to, but I did find it undercut the tenor of the book as a whole. Still, this wouldn’t be the only author I’ve read and enjoyed that didn’t know how to write an ending (Neal Stephenson, I’m looking at you) and it certainly didn’t diminish anything that came before it. I may be reading more Caitlin R. Kiernan in the future.


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