cover image Tales of Pain and Wonder

Tales of Pain and Wonder

Caitlin R. Kiernan, . . Subterranean, $35 (345pp) ISBN 978-1-59606-144-6

Each story in this “definitive” third edition of Kiernan's loosely linked collection stands alone as a visceral slice of life. While “Anamorphosis” and “To This Water” rely on the overdone menaces of pedophilia and rape, “Bela's Plot” (a four-time IHG award winner) establishes a delicate balance between the romance of decay and deliberately undercutting characters' gothic pretensions. “Glass Coffin,” “Salammbô,” “Salmagundi,” “...Between the Gargoyle Trees” and the previously unpublished “Salammbô Redux” relate the history of sisters Salmagundi and Salammbô Desvernine and their disturbed and disturbing extended family. “Paedomorphosis” and “Rats Live on No Evil Star” approach closest to classic horror, driven by revulsion and fear of the alien, while in “Estate,” a human terrorizes a supernatural creature, and “San Andreas” relies on pure human nature for its shuddery effect. Together, the impact of these stories is stunning: glancing collisions between psychics, runaways, junkies, artists and whores (who, as in Kiernan's Silk , function as a loose alternative to a family) add up to a portrait of something broken and beautiful. (Mar.)