Caitlin Kiernan has published an immense number of short stories, and a good number of novels since the 90s. And yet I retain the impression she remains largely unknown to the reading public. Perhaps due to the initial focus on goth and punk and like motifs, nevertheless, she has become one of the best stylists in the game, not to mention delved ever deeper into the human facets of her stories regardless of motif—her 2009 The Red Tree a great example, and arguably her best novel to that point in time. In 2012 Kiernan topped herself with The Drowning Girl, potentially penning her magnum opus and dark fantasy masterpiece, in the process.
Framed as a downward spiral, The Drowning Girl is the story of India Morgan Phelps—known as Imp to many. Openly schizophrenic, Imp tells of her mother and grandmother’s mental issues, their demise in suicide, and her likely road to the same end. One evening while out for a drive, Imp finds a hitchhiker named Eva Canning standing naked beside the road. Reminding Imp of a girl from a painting she has loved since childhood, Imp provides Canning a bed for the night, and the next day sees the woman on her way. Trouble follows. Canning turning up at Imp’s work and at various points on her daily routine, it appears she has a stalker. Dealing with relationship issues, Imp takes little notice. But things start to crumble. Other Cannings seeming to appear, her medication no longer having strong effect, her employment not going as planned—these and a variety of other matters force Imp into a new perspective on life. Question is, is she able to survive?