The Drowning Girl
May 26, 2023 12:08 PM - Subscribe

India Morgan Phelps--Imp to her friends--is schizophrenic. She can no longer trust her own mind, because she is convinced that her memories have somehow betrayed her, forcing her to question her very identity. Struggling with her perception of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about an encounter with a vicious siren, or a helpless wolf that came to her as a feral girl, or neither of these things but something far, far stranger...

Imp is trying to write her memoir, but she struggles with the unreliability of her own mind. But for her, it’s most important to tell her “truth.”

That truth comes through a stream-of-consciousness tale of her love story with her transgender girlfriend, as well as her obsession with a mysterious woman whom she finds naked and mute at the side of the road.
posted by miss-lapin (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It should probably be mentioned that this is by Caitlín R. Kiernan.

This is a very strange and very interesting book. I can't honestly say I loved it, but I can't say I hated it either. I've had that reaction to the few of Kiernan's books I've read, with the exception of The Red Tree, which I quite liked.

I think most people who like, say, Larissa Lai would probably like Caitlín R. Kiernan's books as well.
posted by kyrademon at 2:21 PM on May 26, 2023

THis is probably my favorite book by Kiernan. She conveys the place-ness of Providence, RI to an exceptional degree. Reading it was like walking around the near West Side, and everything seems legitimate, which makes the unreal aspects of the book very jarring, since the reality is very real.

It's not an easy read. Not only in the plot pretty twisty, but Imp is (as she admits) not a reliable narrator, partly by her design, partly by her metal state, and partly by the forces acting upon her (assuming that those forces are "real.") I've been considering a reread for some time now.

I have a theory that the book is laid out mathematically, as an oval with the two foci being the two short stories that appear about 1/4 and 3/4s of the way through the book. As you move through the book, the imagery (mermaids and Red Riding Hood/the Wolf (or should that be Red Riding Hood, the Wolf?), the setting of the "ghost encounter," the timeline of Imp's relationship wit Abalyn, the lives of the two artists, and other details, shift from one to another. Eva Canning is maybe the spine of the novel, but everything in it is in motion.

I have a different, less sure theory, that all the characters in the book are Kiernan, with Imp "holding" her mental issues and author impulses, Abalyn "holding" her trans identity, the psychologist "holding" her dispassionate observation of the rest, and Eva "holding," well, I am not quite sure. It's an incomplete and uncertain theory.

It is a frustrating, entrancing puzzle of a novel, and I wish that it was better known and more discussed. It is a book that breaks down the idea of a narrative without letting go of it. I have never read anything exactly like it.

In a slightly different note, Kiernan has expressed some problematic views over the years. Nothing too extreme, but she seems sort of reflexively anti-woke in a way that feels baffling (to me) for a trans woman living in the rural South, but I don't feel that that infects her writing much, which shows a warm regard for her characters' varied humanities while exposing them to her cold and malign wold of the imagination.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:47 PM on May 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

I have been a Cait Kiernan fan since, well, at least the mid-90s. She and I crossed paths IRL quite a bit in early 00s in Atlanta.

I unabashedly love her work. I always have. Admittedly, I haven't kept with anything past this novel. No particular reason, really. Her worlds are familiar when they're Southern as I am also from that part of the world. I love her use of language, her resolute stubbornness to resolve a mystery, and the way she wears her influences on her sleeve.

Cait's always been something of a misanthrope, but it really has gotten odd in the past few years, as GenjiandProust mentions above.

It's funny this showed up in FanFare because I have been doing a CRK reread! I just finished Silk--my OG paperwork no longer has a cover --and am now reading Threshold. Who wants to do a CRK book club?
posted by Kitteh at 4:27 PM on May 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

I might be up for that. I re-listened to Threshold fairly recently.

My favorite story about her is when I met her and I said that I really appreciated her descriptions of the awfulness of the RI summers, especially as someone who moved to RI from Austin and could not believe that, after a 1500 mile northerly move, it was that hot and humid still. Then I said that the least realistic thing in any of her novels was the time someone found parking on Benefit St at midnight. And she admitted that she had written that before moving to Providence....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:03 PM on May 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

Who wants to do a CRK book club? I'm in. This is the first of her novels I've read. Up until now, I've only tackled her short stories. So I should point out that Jacova Angevine from Kiernan's story Houses Under The Sea is mentioned multiple times in this novel. The unnamed narrator of that story is attempting to write about his experiences with Jacova, a prophet who leads her flock to a mass drowning. The same tension between writer and person who experienced something inexplicable exist as well as circles being an import part of the narrative. Jacova, of course, worships Mother Hydra making it part of the ever growing Cthulhu mythos.
posted by miss-lapin at 6:16 PM on May 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

I didn't even realize today is Kiernan's birthday!
posted by miss-lapin at 8:13 PM on May 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

Oh man this book scared the CRAP outta me! So good. :)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:27 AM on May 30, 2023 [2 favorites]

> "In a slightly different note, Kiernan has expressed some problematic views over the years. Nothing too extreme..."

As of recently, FYI, her problematic views have now crossed over into extreme.
posted by kyrademon at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

Can someone link me to what she's saying/doing or just tell me? I did a quick scroll of her twitter and didn't see anything.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:04 AM on June 7, 2023

OK I checked her livejournal (I didn't even know you could still livejournal) and found this post titled White Hell. So I'm guessing that is what you're referring to kyrademon?
posted by miss-lapin at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2023

There’s a bunch of stuff in recent posts that has gone “next level,” and I’m really sorry to see it. Maybe it’s just getting old, but… they seem to be teetering on the edge of full-on white supremacy as well as expressing some pretty hostile opinions in gender for someone who identifies as gender fluid (apparently Kiernan no longer considers themselves trans?).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

“Themself” autocorrect, Kiernan may be many things, but they aren’t plural.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:01 AM on June 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

As one example, they've been retweeting an explicitly fascist politician (that is, a politician who calls *himself* a fascist) about e.g. why white people shouldn't feel guilty about slavery.

It's bad.
posted by kyrademon at 10:52 AM on June 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I mean, she makes no bones and calls herself "a classic liberal," whatever that means. Her dislike of the human race and the 21st century in general has been present for a long time. Again, I don't know if this is because she more or less lives on a threadbare income and that lens can make you angry for having to scrabble for a living at her age, or she's doing what some older Gen Xers do and just become more stubbornly and frustratingly conservative. It makes me sad because I have loved her work for a long time despite the bleakness of it. Back in the day, she, Billy Martin (formerly Poppy Z Brite), and Christa Faust were the female faces of horror.(They even had their own website: Pandora Station.) I think Faust is the only one making a regular living anymore (she pivoted into sexy pulp and it worked out really well for her). Billy Martin is chronically ill and also broke and not writing anymore. Cait is scraping by but not by much.

You can try and point out that "woke" is now firmly associated with A Certain Kind of Folk to her but I think many have tried and she has not been gracious. Again, sad to see one of my favorite writers turn into a cliche of a bitter old human.
posted by Kitteh at 10:55 AM on June 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

Oh wow I didn't know about Billy Martin. That is so sad.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:17 AM on June 7, 2023

I knew Martin wasn’t writing anymore, but I did not know he was ill. It seems like Kathe Koja and Nancy Collins are still writing….
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:40 AM on June 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I keep up with his blog posts on his Patreon and they recently have become a wheelchair user. A lot of the entries talk about struggling to pay for medication, food for themselves and their pets, their love for their supportive partner but fear that their partner will leave them because they are sick. It's heartbreaking.
posted by Kitteh at 12:39 PM on June 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

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