This is a ghost story, and this is not a ghost story.
How two things can be simultaneously true and real, true and factual, is at the core of this haunting (yes, literally) novel, Kiernan's latest forray into the weird and fringe. Imp--India Morgan Phelps--is a schizophrenic woman living in Providence, RI with her girlfriend when she finds a naked woman standing by the side of the road. She does what a any good citizen might, except that maybe she didn't--because she meets the woman Eva months later once again, as if it's the first time. We might chalk this up to the unreliable narrator, but Imp is so candid and clear that it would be hard to disbelieve her entirely. That's one of the strengths of this novel, that we think we can see the delusions for what they really are and divide them from the truth, while all the while Imp confesses her unsurety. Eva's uncanny presence and the tethering sanity of Imp's practical girlfriend pull us in yet more directions, elegantly blurring the truth.
Kiernan not only toes the line between "reality" and "delusion" (while asking what those categories really mean, I might add), she shaves that line so thin it all but dissolves, and like any razor's edge, it's sharp enough to cut you.
Certainly Kiernan bled into this novel. It positively drips with her devotion and painstaking effort, and yet the narrative voice is effortless. Is this a paradox? Perhaps so, but just as there are two Evas and two meetings, there are two authors here: the earnest and lonely Imp, and the haunting Kiernan behind her, puling all the strings until they snap. Imp is so real it hurts; she's not a character, she's a person, with all the attendant contradiction and doubt and yes, even humor. (It's a sort of blunt, naive humor, but amusing all the same.) The setting and the events are signature Kiernan, grim and gradual, building to some inevitable confrontation with the horror of the world. It's a subtle horror, mostly unseen, and as far as you can get from the Horror genre. And, as always, there's a bit of her horror of the real: Imp struggles to pay the rent, to pay her much-needed psychiatrist, to understand her transgender girlfriend who has likewise taken more than her fair share of society's abuse. Imp writes all of this, and Kiernan behind her writes all the terror and the magic of what Imp knew, and thought she knew, and wants to know.
I say magic, but there's only circumstantial evidence of that. Magic might just be the product of a broken brain's pieces lovingly heaped into some kind of sense; magic might be real magic, magic not tamed by magicians. As ever, Kiernan's work is a wild thing, going where it wants and le