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The Ammonite Violin & Others by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Cover Artist: Richard Kirk
Review by Mario Guslandi
Subterranean Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063051
Date: 01 June 2010

Links: Subterranean Press / Show Official Info /

Caitlin R Kiernan has a vivid imagination and writes in a musical fashion. When she succeeds, she creates solid, colorful gems, but when she fails she produces heavy gray stones which bore the reader to death. The Ammonite Violin & Others is a new collection of twenty tales which confirms the author's merits and flaws.

Some stories are simply beautiful, others tedious and smug to such an extent to make it irritating and almost unbearable to read them. Thus, I’ll totally neglect the latter and mention only the former.

"Bridle" is a fascinating, modern fairy tale where an ancient being appearing in the shape of a horse haunts the pool of a secluded city park.

In the lyric, exquisite "For One Who Has Lost Herself" a female creature manages to retrieve a sealskin that means much to her...

"Ode to Edward Munch" is a gentle tale of vampirism set in Manhattan, while "The Cryomancer’s Daughter" is a complex fantasy tale revolving around a lesbian relationship.

In "Metamorphosis A" a woman gets transformed by a mysterious parasite and in "Metamorphosis B" a mermaid’s daughter regains her true nature.

"The Lovesong of Lady Ratteanrufer" is yet another, dazzling fairy tale where rats exist before creation, the snake is their enemy and a woman makes love with the God of all rats.

"Skin game" nicely blends the themes of lycanthropy and jealousy.

Three stories really stand out and make the book worth its price:

  • "The Ammonite Violin" , a superb story of horror, solitude and madness, features a serial killer turning the remains of one of his victims in a musical instrument.
  • The excellent, atmospheric "Scene in the Museum (1896)" depicts the ambiguous relationship between a lesbian geologist gone blind and a moody young whore recruited to keep her company.
  • The final story, "The Madam of the Narrow Houses" is another portrait of a lonely woman, an unmarried dressmaker, becoming the object of frequent visitations by the dead.
Kiernan's fiction seems to keep revolving around a few, recurrent subjects such as the solitude and frailty of the human race surrounded by a hostile universe, and the bittersweet pleasures of homosexuality, which makes her work a bit monotonous.

My personal advice is, in fact, to read this collection a little at the time, in order to better savour the beauty of the best stories without getting enveloped by boredom. It would be a shame to dismiss a book by a writer endowed with great potential, who, at her best, can craft unforgettable pieces of fiction.

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