The Ape's Wife and Other Stories
by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong; Interior illustrations by Vince Locke
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596065864
Date: 30 November 2013 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Caitlyn R. Kiernan has repeatedly proven herself to be the go-to author for those seeking psychologically complex, beautifully written, and downright scary horror and dark fantasy. Her latest short story collection shows that, as great as her novels are, her short work is even better. The Ape's Wife and Other Stories is a fantastic collection, highlighting both Kiernan's recurring themes and her breadth, and is a must have for existing fans, as well as a great introduction for those who haven't yet had the pleasure of discovering Kiernan's writing.
The stories in this collection span a wide range of settings and atmospheres. Several of them are contemporary horror stories, such as "One Tree Hill" and "Scattered Notes Before a Fatal Crash". Others are science fiction, still with a clear horror element, such as "Galapagos" and "Slouching Towards the House of Glass Coffins". Still others are fantasy, such as "The Sea Troll's Daughter", a feminist, satirical retelling of Beowulf, or steampunk, like "The Steam Dancer", a story about the fragility of the things that give our life meaning, and how we can't help but rely on them nonetheless.
A common theme in many of these stories is a horror at the alienness and incomprehensibility of the universe. This is a relatively common horror theme, prominent in the work of H.P. Lovecraft and those influenced by him, as Kiernan herself clearly is. However, Kiernan's take on this theme is importantly different from Lovecraft's. Kiernan brings the alienness of the cosmos closer to home, so to speak. Our friends and lovers are also part of the cosmos, as are we ourselves, and so all of us are part of the incomprehensible thing we fear. In "Galapagos" and "Tidal Forces" this is shown through the transformation of the protagonists lover in incomprehensible ways, and an invitation to the protagonist to be transformed in turn. In "One Tree Hill", on the other hand, the story tiptoes around the central mystery, never quite revealing what the protagonist has encountered that confronted him with the alienness of the universe, only hinting at it.
Kiernan's writing is one of her major strengths. Her prose is by turns matter of fact and beautifully elusive, and she excels at expressing the confusion and conflicted motivations of her characters. Her writing often forces the reader to read between the lines, and many of the most horrific elements of her stories await there, for the reader to piece together and recoil from themselves.
This collection displays the breadth and talent of one of the best horror writers out there. Her work is a must read for any serious fan of horror literature, and this collection is a great chance to remind yourself why, or to encounter her writing for the first time. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.