Horror blends with love, obsession, transformed bodies, and terrifying mysteries in this collection of stories.
Kiernan’s surreal and often unsettling fiction derives much of its power from the way it causes characters and readers alike to question reality via a shroud of narrative ambiguity. The best stories in this new collection channel this mysterious and haunting quality by invoking other creative disciplines. The protagonist of “Workprint,” a moody narrative abounding with menace, receives a mysterious film still that leads her to explore the world of special effects in the 1980s, hinting at a secret and unsettling cinematic history. A painter confronts inexplicable weather—indoor snow, specifically—in “Three Months, Three Scenes, With Snow.” Here, too, the protagonist searches for the answer to a question that defies logical explanation—always a warning sign in the realm of the uncanny. And opener “Werewolf Smile” brings together seemingly disparate elements—the legacy of the Black Dahlia murder, the slow dissolution of a relationship, and a centuries-old legend of lycanthropy—to produce a slow-building, genuinely disorienting work of horror. Other stories explore more fantastical realms. “— 30 —” follows one writer’s quest to overcome a severe case of writer’s block, which leads her to investigate supernatural remedies. In the end, though, the most memorable aspect of the story isn’t its foray into the paranormal but the elegiac quality it takes on as it explores questions of memory and sacrifice. And “Another Tale of Two Cities,” in which the narrator is transformed into a city by a microscopic civilization, brings together elements of body horror and science fiction in an unpredictable way.
At their best, these stories are sinister and beguiling in equal measure, tracing the border between fear and obsession and asking powerful questions about desire along the way.