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Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan
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Threshold (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Caitlin R. Kiernan

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4271724,721 (3.73)5
Member:elwen
Title:Threshold
Authors:Caitlin R. Kiernan
Info:Roc (2007), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, Bookmooch, Fantasy, Horror
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Fantasy, Bookmooch, Horror

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Threshold by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2007)

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Having been impressed by a couple of her Lovecraftian stories and her appearance as one of those interviewed for the documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, I decided to give one of her novels a try - particularly after hearing it was not only Lovecraftian but featured geology and paleontology.

Chance Matthews, grad student in paleontology, is alone in the world. Orphaned at a young age, she's now without the grandparents, also geologists and paleontologists, who raised her. Her friend Elsie committed suicide. Grief stricken and trying to concentrate on her studies, she's in no mood to see ex-boyfriend Deacon, present gothish girlfriend in tow along with one Dancy Flammarion (evidently a character in several Kiernan works). As if Dancy's albino looks and freakish insistence on seeing her wasn't enough, Dancy also insists Chance has to help her kill some monsters. It's all a lot of mental patient crazy talk until Chance finds some strange fossils her grandmother secreted away before killing herself. And it may just have to do with whatever Chance, Deacon, and Elsie saw one strange night, at novel's beginning, in the waterworks of Birmingham, Alabama.

Like most of the best Lovecraft inspired authors, Kiernan does no slavish imitation of Lovecraft. The plotting owes as much to Beowulf Translated with an Introduction and Afterword by Burton as Lovecraft though Lovecraft gets an explicit mention (as does Algernon Blackwood, Lewis Carroll, and the poet Longfellow). No characters, places, monsters, or books show up from Lovecraft. The inspiration is more subtle in the physical appearance of the novel's menace and, particularly, in the promise of the novel's subtitle: "A Novel of Deep Time". For the menace is from deep time. There is one beautiful passage where Chance has a vision of Alabama's Silurian age. (And, for those who need it, Kiernan, formerly a professional paleontologist, provides a glossary of terms.)

And that beauty is part of another subtle promise Kiernan makes on the copyright page: "The book is best read aloud." Kiernan does provide read-aloud prose -- carefully paced, sonorous, and sprinkled with occasional coinages of her own.

Lovecraft characters almost always seem divorced from any life with family and friends, and that is definitely not the case here. The trinity of Chance, Deacon, and Sadie are most definitely attached to other people - even if only their memories.

Kiernan tells her story with an interesting technique of describing a scene, often leaving the scene before its climax, and then going to another scene in the past which provides answers to the resolution of other scenes.

The one thing that may frustrate readers is the novel's end. This story does not neatly resolve all the loose ends and mysteries. As one character says, "Some stories don't have endings. In some stories, there aren't even answers." Kiernan's resolution is not neat, perhaps too messily like real life for some. But it's obviously a considered choice not incompetence. While I think not resolving major questions is a sin in some genres, I think it can be appropriate to a mystery horror novel of deep time, and it worked for me the more I think about it.

In other words, I was impressed by Kiernan the novelist as much as Kiernan the short story writer, and I'll be reading more of her. ( )
  RandyStafford | Mar 9, 2012 |
Brilliant and creepy and then brilliant some more.
  omnia_mutantur | Jan 14, 2012 |
I have a feeling I’m going to have a lot of people disagree with my opinion of Threshold. From what I’ve seen, it, and the author, Caitlín Kiernan, are well-respected by a lot of other authors, and she has a devoted fan base. I have to say, though, that Threshold is, at best, a poor attempt at a Lovecraftian novel that manages to read more like a pretentious Christopher Pike manuscript.

Full review: http://libwen.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/threshold-by-caitlin-kiernan/ ( )
  juliayoung | Jun 9, 2011 |
This made for a phantasmagorical journey that bent genres with both science fiction and fantasy elements. I read this because it was on a horror genre rec list, and though that fits and the novel at times is suspenseful and scary, I don't think that quite describes the book.

For one, the style is much more literary than you usually see in genre writing. It reminds me of a less extreme and more grammatical Cormac McCarthy: there are long, complex sentences and the present tense and frequent use of "and" imparts a lyricism and rhythm to the narrative that is at times mesmerizing. Kiernan frequently uses unusual compound words such as fetidwet, sugarsmooth and blisterswollen.

The characters grew on me. We're introduced in the prologue to Chance, Deacon and Elise as, stoned, they're preparing to break into a tunnel in Birmingham, Alabama. I found that off-putting, but through the book we learn there are reasons why Chance and Deacon are troubled, and enough ultimately to make them sympathetic. The same can be said for two other characters who prove important--Dancy, a mentally disturbed teen and albino, and Sadie, a goth girl that takes up with Deacon.

Though there is a resolution for the characters, not everything ties up neatly, and if you expect your monsters clear cut, you might end this story frustrated. Paleontology is a major thread in this novel, for instance, but I didn't end up feeling it tied in and made sense. What was the point of the trilobites? But if you're not someone who needs everything tied in a bow at the end and are looking for an intelligent and literate book that can deliver chills, this isn't a bad choice. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Jan 21, 2011 |
I kept trying to put this down so I could get some errands done, but I just couldn't. It's like if Lovecraft and Carroll sat down to write a paleontological nightmare, urban fantasy style, with a generous dash of Beowulf thrown in.

It was a bit of a slower read than is normal for me with novels, but it's worth the effort to let yourself go and immerse yourself in the world. The use of language -- new compound words, unusual syntax, most scenes written in the present tense -- took some getting used to, but it was so consistently, logical done that it acted as a world building device in itself. The characters were simultaneously repellent and sympathetic. The story was a slow building descent into horror, where the characters are constantly wondering what's real and what's imagined. Then the ending... I need to think about the ending a bit longer.

It's not an easy read, neither light not schlocky. What it is, is new; I appreciate not knowing what's going to happen before it happens, even in genre fiction, and this really satisfied that need for me. ( )
  thewalkinggirl | Jul 30, 2010 |
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"All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know." - J.R.R. Tolkien (1947)
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The girl named Chance is standing in the rain, plain and skinnytall girl shivering beneath the April night sky pissing rain like icywet needles, and she can't stop giggling.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 045146124X, Mass Market Paperback)

Chance Matthews is drawn into a battle between angels and monsters because of something in her possession-a fossil of a creature that couldn't possibly have ever existed. But it did. And still does.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Paleontologist Chance Matthews and her boyfriend psychic Deke Silvey meet Dancy Flammarion, an albino girl who believes she is a demon hunter. Dancy believes that their night under the old water works on a mountain near Birmingham, Alabama, awakened an ancient and hostile supernatural force. Chance meanwhile is disturbed by a strange fossil from the mountain.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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