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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on June 19, 2000
After reading Kiernan's short fiction (most of which is astounding) and the many good reviews this books has received, I was really very sorry to find Silk near impossible to take. The characters are broadly written caricatures, Goth kid cliches in a Goth cliche universe, interchangeable and utterly forgettable. The writing sways from brilliant to boring, from perfection to slash, sometimes within the same line. The story itself only begins to exist somewhere around the halfway mark, then steamrolls toward an ending neither satisfying nor believable.
Kiernan has proven herself a far better writer than this novel indicates. Here, her work falls into a pit of Goth subculture cliches. By page 15, all are present--the strange obsession with hair and hair dye descriptions (each character can be told from the rest by his or her hair color and quality), Tom Waits, The Cure, Nosferatu, boring drug use, and a character named Byron. All of which would be fine had Kiernan raised even one of her characters out of the blandness and made him/her real. Unfortunately, the next two hundred pages are just more of the same. When the story does actually begin, the reader is too sick of the characters to care.
Silk - a novel about hair dye, Tom Waits, and spooky posturing; a sophomoric mix of embarassingly overwrought and brilliantly poetic prose; a heartless, shapeless story crammed into a black lace costume; a story Poppy Brite would have written better; a misguided attempt by a writer who is capable of so much more.
If you are new to Kiernan, read her short story collections. Their praise, I'm sure, is far more deserved than that of this book.
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on May 25, 2000
I've been dipping my toes into Goth fiction a bit recently. Started with Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls, which I found reasonably entertaining but not the earthshattering experience others did. I felt her personal obsessions (Goth culture, gay sex, explicit violence) got in the way of her storytelling. So instead of reading another Brite I turned to her friend Caitlin Kiernan. I read most of the reader comments here at Amazon and got the impression that Kiernan's Silk would be a very different kind of book than Lost Souls, indeed, it sounded more immediately appealing.
Alas, I'm coming away from this even more unsatisfied than I was after finishing Lost Souls. It's not that it's not well written - for the most part it is. While a bit choppy in spots I found Kiernan's style much more appealing than her buddy Brite's. She mixes her pop culture references in naturally instead of intrusively. She has a strong sense of place with her Birmingham setting, and characterization is obviously a strong point for her. The fact that the first 3/4 of the book are devoted to character development and nothing really happens until, oh, page 265 or so, doesn't bother me in and of itself - it's hardly the first book to do that (hell, if you want to get technical, Anne Rice spent two whole novels doing character development before getting the actual plot started in Queen of the Damned). What bothers me is that I find the characters so enormously unappealing. They're all self-absorbed 20somethings proudly and defiantly wrapped up in their own pain and dysfunction. I couldn't find any sympathy in me, much less empathy, for any of them, not even Spyder, who was horribly abused as a child. Every time Daria lost her temper over her junky boyfriend I wanted to slap her. Every time Spyder evaded the questions of those who wanted to love and help her with vague mumblings I wanted to strangle her. These are people who enjoy wallowing in their pain.
God knows when I was in my 20s I rolled around in self-pity as much as anybody, maybe more than most. But now that I'm older and living a life I can't bring myself to empathize with any of these characters. And since I can't really care about them, I can't care about the danger they're supposedly in. When characters started dying I just shrugged and turned to the next page.
It's not that I don't still enjoy art that drowns itself in despair - I love Larry Brown's fiction and Mark Eitzel's music unreservedly. But Silk I just couldn't get into. Maybe if I'd read this ten years ago I would've empathized more. So if you're in your 20s and confused and hating life, by all means, give this a shot. You'll probably dig it a lot more than I did.
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on May 22, 1999
Well, the new "goth" author rears its ugly head. Thankfully, I didn't have to buy this awful book, as it was given as a review copy. Bad move on the editor's part, but not as bad a move as buying the manuscript in the first place. Kiernan's plodding and pretentious prose is awful enough in short stories, but absolutely intolerable in a novel-length format. Writing about execrable characters no one in a right frame of mind cares about is a mystery to me. And yet again I find myself amused by the holier-than-thou attitude of the alternative set, who think, in a kind of weird reversal of roles, that they are superior to the mundanes whose existences so bother them. This novel showed no promise at all, and likely reinforced the author's lamentable interpretation that this kind of writing is anything more than awful. I shudder to think what good work is shouldered out of the way so that garbage like this can see the light of publication. Ah, well. Perhaps there are enough Poppy Brite fans around to ensure that the book sees a profit.
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on November 4, 2002
Very disappointing read, and don't get me wrong, I like gothic literature and knew what I was in for. The problem with this particular gothic novel is that it's really only a short story strung out over hundreds of pages. Very slow, but I kept hoping it was going to build into a real crescendo. Unfortunately, even the ending is slow and a let-down. I love Caitlin's writing and the ins and outs of the characters like Spyder and Robin kept me going till the end, but then when it was finished, I was like, what was the point? No monsters...not even a villain to speak of! It's just words on a page. It's like my brother jumping out of a closet saying boo! Not really scary, just kind of there. I give it two stars for writing style, but if you're looking for plot, look elsewhere.
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on January 6, 2003
Silk has a permanent home on my bookshelf next to Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls. I've read them both twice, to be fair, and don't really intend to read them again.
Perhaps I just don't understand this brand of "horror." Throughout the entire story, I wondered what I was intended to think of the characters. Was I supposed to like them? Was I supposed to care about them at all? If so, then I must have missed something. All I saw were a bunch of boring Gen X-ers in a small town who died in some bizarre, but ultimately inexplicably dull ways for no apparent reason. If there was a point to this book, other than "Some stuff that happened to these people I once knew," I couldn't find it.
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on November 13, 1998
I will keep this short, as short as Silk should have been. Kiernan's verbose novel is tolerable only to those who have little or no interest in story, who wish to spend (waste) their time swimming in the superficial, faux-Gothic,pretentious crud known as "Goth." This bastardized version of Gothicism will not appeal to people who enjoy the work of true Gothic writers, such as Poe and Shelley, for more than just the "spooky" descriptions. Kiernan's Silk is all about the make-up, people. The most Gothic thing about this novel is the mysterious lack of plot.
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on December 5, 2003
This book is the most poetic horror novel I've read in a long time ... maybe ever. Poppy Z. Brite compared it to a gothic cathedral on fire, and that's really an accurate description. Here we have a book which is dripping atmosphere. While this can annoy some readers - who prefer a fast-moving plot to a well-developed one - I think it's their loss.
Kiernan's command of language is truly amazing. If you tried to simply retell the plot of this novel you'd get a rather simple story, and not much scary, too. But the author takes some elements you've read before a hundred times and somehow transforms them into vivid memorable images.
The horror genre was explored by so many authors, that it's hard to find a truly original novel. But "Silk" clearly demonstrates, that if you take good characters and write about them with passion and grace, you can get fantastic results.
Also it helps if the writer can substitute phrases like "spiders covered her", for "she was covered with thousands tiny lives, scratching with a billion legs" - do you feel the difference?
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on October 6, 2003
Mysterious monsters harass Goth kids in this first novel from the prominent New Horror writer.
For me, the shiny sentence-level writing is the strongest point of this book. The plot, which uses the time-honored horror element "something happened that was so horrible we can get hints of it only in flashbacks", makes reasonably good sense and incorporates some interesting ideas, though the existence of too many characters means that they shift disconcertingly in importance. Generally, the mood is successfully dark, and the horrific ideas are original, though I didn't find the story especially scary.
The characters, however, are a weakness in my opinion: they're losers, people who actually care about the difference between deathrock and Goth, kids who have no apparent interests, goals or dreams beyond drugs, casual affairs and garage bands. I'd say that -- without using the criterion of literal age -- there are no adults in this book. I had a hard time sympathizing with these pathetic, soullessly conformist waifs.
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on May 6, 2003
Kiernan hits a homerun with this one. I finally picked up Silk after letting it sit on my shelf for a very long time. Why did I wait so long? I was blown away by Kiernan's writing style--poetic, languid, dreamlike--although it took me a few pages to warm up to the rhythm of her writing. She's very effective at slowly building the tension and supsense without once unleashing a gore-fest in order to achieve a nightmare quality.

Spyder Baxter is the goth-lesbian-store owner-druggie-sometimes mental patient that is at the center of the goings-on in this novel. People who seem to have nowhere else to go are drawn to her. Daria Parker is the ambitious, creative songwriter/bassist for Stiff Kitty, a local Birmingham, Alabama punk group just shy of success. Niki, Keith, Mort, Theo, Byron, Robin, and Walter round out the two groups that become linked by bizarre nightmares and visions of skittering things that manage to avoid being seen directly.

This is perhaps a portrait of the terror that can develop from being abused and outcast. Spyder is a very troubled young woman, and her past not only haunts her but reaches out to haunt those closest to her. Silk is not about blood, gore, and a high body count. Yes, the spiders (and the spider-like things) are creepy enough, but the heart of the story is the loneliness, despair, and purposelessness of many of the characters. This is a great tale of suspense, and Kiernan's writing created a sense of unease, of some creeping terror that couldn't be named. I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I'm glad I finally picked it up to read. Highly recommended!
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on January 14, 2003
Every once in a while I find a book waiting to be read, and I am not even sure how it got there. While I am not sure why or when I purchased 'Silk', I am very glad I did. Pickings have been slim for good modern horror lately, and this book fills the bill in very satisfying fashion. Caitlin Kiernan chooses an unusual setting and cast to tell a story that is part horror and part social history and in doing so makes the point that it is not always the creatures with claws and fangs that are the real villains of horror stories. Sometimes the real monsters never appear on the stage at all.
The players in this story are drawn from urban America's children of a lesser God. The goths, punk, skinheads and other border subcultures that the mainstream world isn't quite comfortable with, but which fascinate nonetheless. This is the story of Spyder Baxter - goth, storeowner, and lesbian whose sanity is always in doubt, and who is haunted by memories of a traumatic and fatal childhood. It is also the story of Daria Parker - lead singer/writer in the punk band Stiff Kitten, a motley crew who could almost see success if they could just keep it together.
Each of these women and their friends mirror completely the cultures they live in. Even if 'Silk' were not also a horror story, it would be a brilliant talk of life in a subculture, similar in style to 'North Coast Gothic,' which never set out to be a horror story. The participants seem hell bent on snatching chaos from the jaws of rationality, living in stressed out lives of their own creation, always acting in a melodrama. But something much darker lives below, haunting the basement of Spyder's cellar. Memories waiting to be brought to life again.
Spiders haunt this story, black widows and brown recluses hiding just out of sight, hunter/killers waiting for the right magic spell to wake them up. And when the spell is done these eight-legged players perform almost invisibly, in dreams and on the edge of perception. But they take their toll, and people die. In the city of Birmingham, sleepless nights become the only defense.
This is certainly one of the best first horror novels I have read in a while, and the writer has gone on to accumulate kudos and awards. The story develops slowly, but inexorably, but the pace is always sufficient to hold the readers interest. If you are looking for something a bit off the beaten track and easy to read, then add 'Silk' to your list.
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