This collection abounds with uneasy psyches, unsettling fauna, and blurred boundaries between the real and the bizarre.
Much of Kiernan’s fiction exists on the border between psychological horror and the same genre’s more supernatural division. Many of the stories in this collection exemplify this: While there are strange rituals, cursed objects, and a tinge of cosmic horror, Kiernan places a strong emphasis on the headspace of her characters. Several of the stories here—including “Untitled Psychiatrist No. 2” and “Untitled Psychiatrist No. 3”—create memorably disquieting scenes as characters recall moments from their pasts that are laced with horror. The use of memory lends an air of ambiguity to the proceedings, which intensifies the feeling of something ominous. “Fairy Tale of Wood Street,” which centers around a woman who may or may not have a tail, takes the book’s psychological elements to their apex. “Fake Plastic Trees,” set in an environmentally devastated world with echoes of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, blends high-concept science fiction with a deeply subjective narrative as its narrator grapples with memories and nightmares inspired by those memories as she attempts to document a haunting event that she witnessed. Some of these stories veer into the outright Lovecraft-ian, including “The Cats of River Street (1925)” and “Excerpts from An Eschatology Quadrille.” The latter, set in four different time periods, creates a powerful sense of unease even as it demonstrates Kiernan’s range and command of setting. And the title story makes use of deeply deliberate pacing as the encounter between two travelers whose paths cross in South Dakota gradually becomes something at once charged and menacing.
Kiernan’s densely plotted and atmospheric tales of dread—supernatural and otherwise—make for a memorably unsettling read.