There are many things I like about Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work ever since encountering it with “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth in 2005.
Her Lovecraft related fiction is always interesting. Her prose, as I said in my review of Threshold, is read-aloud beautiful. As with my Ambrose Bierce and Kathe Koja series, I started to read her novels when she was scheduled to appear at the local Arcana convention. She had to cancel, and I haven’t read a novel of hers since. (Yet another reading project to return to.)
She likes Charles Fort, naming one of her collections To Charles Fort With Love.
And she is a former paleontologist who drops a lot of references to geology into her fiction.
I’ll come back to geology at the end of the review.
Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased has a review of the book mentioning specific titles.
Review: Dear Sweet Filthy World, coll. Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2017.
What can I tell you about the Dear Sweet Filthy World I have returned from?
I could tell you it is a land bordered by dangerous women prowling the interstates of America; one has a head stuffed with visions of conflagrations at Dresden and Hiroshima and Peshtigo and Chicago; two are incestuous twins in a roving church of murder and sex, orgasmic rites with knives and pliers.
Should I tell you of the caged woman unsure if she was once a dragon?
Should I tell you of lovers found in the liminal lands between earth and sea, one a demon from the sky and one a creature of the Earth?
Should I tell you of the women who give themselves in orgasmic embrace to giant trilobites and Cthulhoid monsters and giant orchids and dragons, willing lambs to ecstatic slaughter?
Should I tell you that I saw Mr. Lovecraft’s shoggoths and heard howling werewolves? That I saw the savage art of the Black Dahlia murder?
Should I tell you of the names I heard whispered: Dickens and Shakespeare, Giger and the Campbells Joseph and Ramsey, Neko Case and Charles Fort, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Robert Frost, and Rob Bottin?
Should I tell you that in the abyss of this world’s seas are vampires and dryads?
Should I tell you of the cities of this world, a coal-blackened, fairyland London or something like a New York City where fairies and goblins trade amnesia for art?
Should I tell you of the woman filled with microscopic cities?
Should I tell you of a dildo disappearing into an invisible lover or of the artist cursed and bound by his model?
Should I tell you of all the women sacrificed in future carnivals and future forests and on seashores?
Should I tell you of woman wishing to be cocooned like an insect?
Should I tell you of the echo of this world’s sea in the blood of so many, of the terror and transformation it brings?
Should I tell you of the Hell of regret and guilt and its shadowy guards?
I could tell you of these things, but I would be telling you only about the bones of theme and imagery, the ligament marks of plot. You would be as close to understanding as a Victorian paleontologist and his chunky reconstruction of a T. Rex. He would not know the grace and the movements of the monster. You would not know the grace and movement and articulations of the Dirty Sweet Filthy World.
I could suggest that these fervent couplings with the Other, whether sterile mergings or consequential in birthing monsters to devour our future, these exchanges of bodily fluids, human with alien, are artesianal oozings from a dark and bitter and deep human well seeking racial extinction.
I could suggest that the weaving streams of narrative, the fault lines where universes grind against each other in dislocations of setting and persona, where the boundaries between observer and participant crumble and mix, where stories end in sheer cliffs of insinuation or playfulness, are traces of Kiernan’s mind birthing this world under pressure of deadlines, jagged and raw orogenies not always covered by accretions of revisions and convention or eroded by editorial suggestion.
Should I tell you these things? Should I suggest these things?
I have told you these things. I do suggest these things.
But I cannot tell you if you should enter the Dear Sweet Filthy World.
It’s a variegated land. I cannot tell you if you will find beauty or obscenity, verities of destruction and creation, or nacreous decadence.
Some Geological Poetry
Here’s a quote from “Latitude 41°2145.89”N, Longitude 71°29’0.62””, a title that hints at the precise geological and botanical descriptions in a story narrated by an ex-geologist:
… these chunks of magma cooled four hundred and fifty million years ago, the Iapetus oceanic plate colliding with and then beginning to sink beneath the North American craton in that cold Late Ordovician age, and here the protracted birth pains of the Appalachians begin. Recorded in the curve of this jetty and the bones of New England, writ in porphyritic textures, this plagioclase composition below my feet of alkali feldspar, quartz, pinkish, gray, almost white, almost black.
… angry sea slams itself to pieces, jewel spray to, grain by grain, devour the stone, make of it sand, make it amnesiac granules to forget plutonic plumes so far below.
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