Caitlín R. Kiernan has steadily moved beyond an early reputation as an heir to the legacy of H.P. Lovecraft and Southern Gothic literature to become one of the most original and audacious weird writers of her generation. In addition to her many award-winning novels and stories, Kiernan has written scientific papers that reflect her love of herpetology and paleontology, also reflected in her fiction. Perhaps more than any other writer of the past thirty years, Kiernan places the reader somewhere alien and inhabits points of view that seem both luminous and edgy.
But, as she has throughout her career, Kiernan has begun to move in new directions yet again. Her last two novels, The Red Tree and just-released The Drowning Girl have contained more overt elements of autobiography while retaining the talent for the uncanny that marked Kiernan’s earlier work.
The Drowning Girl is told by India Morgan Phelps—Imp to her friends—who 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 own 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.
That description of The Drowning Girl may help orient the reader, but it cannot really convey the genius of the voice Kiernan has created in the novel. It’s rare that a writer can create one memorable character, let alone two such voices, perfectly balanced and devoted to telling a unique and beautifully written story. As Peter Straub wrote of the novel, “With The Drowning Girl, [the author] moves firmly into the new vanguard, still being formed, of our best and most artful authors of the gothic and fantastic.”
Omnivoracious caught up with Kiernan via email to ask three questions about The Drowning Girl…