Threshold is dark and rich and strange, and no superficial description is going to do it justice. Its bones are a Stumbling Onto That Which Should Not Be Disturbed tale in a mode not completely un-Lovecraftian. Kiernan isn’t as resolutely xenophobic as Howard P., but perhaps no less sanguine about the outcome of encounters with That Which Is Beyond Human Ken.
Kiernan renders the story of drunken Deacon, sharp-witted Chance, gothy Sadie, damaged Dancy, and unfortunate Elise in a present-tense stream-of-consciousness, with incomplete sentences and portmanteau coinages on nearly every page. Initially I found these stylistic quirks a bit off-putting, but they grew on me, and eventually proved thematically appropriate to boot. Kiernan’s prose is frequently gorgeous, and she renders Birmingham with a phenomenal and concrete vividness that makes me feel almost as if I’ve been in the environs she describes (some of which actually exist). Her people are three-dimensional, flawed but credible, and I almost feel like I’ve met them. (Chance Matthews is a true rarity in fiction, a scientist who actually talks and acts like a scientist.)
I think it’s the grounding of those naturalistic details that makes the book so effective — it’s the scariest thing I’ve read since I don’t know when.*
I wasn’t totally satisfied by the conclusion, even though it makes thematic sense — the novel perhaps backs itself into a bit of a corner that it’s hard to get out of gracefully. But overall, it easily earns Kiernan a spot on my “favorite dark fantasists” list.
*Since before I’ve been running this blog. Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer came close, but they were both a little too self-conscious about their use of haunted house tropes to really chill me. Sean Stewart’s Perfect Circle was pretty spooky, but Threshold got to adult me like Stephen King used to get to adolescent me.
needs more demons? nohow.