I had very little to do with books between the ages of about 12 to 18. School and university assignments had me read under duress, which compounded a sense of apathy which wasn’t broken until I discovered the works of Poppy Z. Brite. I read Lost Souls and Drawing Blood and Exquisite Corpse and, having loved them all, I hungered for more.
While on the prowl I discovered Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Silk (1998). A startling, unflinching, imaginative story which refused to patronise or spoon-feed its readers. Fresh, daring characters; some you may find difficult to like or sympathise with, but none you could disregard. All this, married to a distinctive writing style which opened my eyes to the possibilities of language. As a reader, the words escaped the page; I was immersed in this impossible, beautiful, terrifying universe – the fates of Spyder, Daria, Niki and the others took on a significance as relevant to me as anything in “real” life.
As someone with aspirations of becoming a writer myself, Silk demonstrated that language is something vital and alive. All the punctuation marks are present and correct (compared to another of favourite authors, Hubert Selby Jr.), but the structure – the rhythm of the thing itself – was like nothing I’d ever encountered before. Lyrical, instinctual, undeniably poetic without being impenetrable or meandering into pretense. Her style has coloured every essay, letter, e-mail, card, text message and blog I’ve written ever since.
Many find her later works more accessible (The Red Tree should already be on your bookshelf), and the short story collection Tales of Pain and Wonder is probably my favourite book of all time. But Silk is the one. It reset my wetware: I suddenly understood the devotion my friends had for Lord of the Rings growing up. Why my mother was able to forsake the television in favour of John Le Carre or Ellis Peters.
Perhaps I’m something of a late starter. Ultimately I’m failing to explain the importance Kiernan and her work has had on my life. I urge you to buy this book, and I hope you get caught in her web the same way I did.
Written by Ryan C.