This week’s weird fiction.
Review: “A Redress for Andromeda”, Caitlín R. Kiernan, 2000.
I seem to recall, but am too lazy to verify, that I once heard Kiernan say on the Coode Street Podcast say that she wishes she could dispense with plot all together in her stories.
This story goes a long way in that direction.
It’s long on atmosphere and poetic prose. Kiernan does what I’ve long wished modern poets would do more of: use the beauty that can be wrought from scientific concepts and terminology. Specifically, she uses the language of geology and paleontology, the academic specialties she was trained in.
The story starts with Tara, a marine biologist, driving on Halloween night to an isolated house
where the land ends and the unsleeping, omnivorous Pacific has chewed the edge of the continent ragged.
On the porch are 111 lit jack-o’-lanterns, one for each year of the mansion’s existence.
On the porch and inside are an odd group of people. There is not only Darren, the man who invited Tara because the group needs a real scientist (the medical doctors they’ve had before don’t really count), but the oleaginous Ahmed Peterson who seems to want to talk about the dead oarfish he saw at Lyme Regis. Tara talks to him about a dead sea turtle she saw on the beach at Santa Cruz.
Everybody but Tara is dressed in black. She’s in white. And there’s the air of a rite about to happen, an atmosphere heightened when she’s given a coin and the group heads down, down a long way to a cave beneath the house.
And there, in the cavern, is a strange hybrid of marine life and woman chained to the wall. It seems she must be honored each year, by tossing those coins in the pool around the woman. That seems necessary to keep the forces of the pelagian depths from rising up.
Or, at least, that’s what it seems to me on a single reading.
But I’m not sure. Kiernan throws around a lot of lines that seem to be from nursery rhymes or songs (to be frank, my knowledge of either is pretty limited, so the allusions may be obvious to others).
I’m also not sure of whether the scenes with Darren and Tara laying in the grass — they seem to be lovers but it’s not explicit – take place before or after the night of the story.
What does seem to be clear is that Tara will join the rite next year. She’ll wear black. She’ll help carve 112 pumpkins.
The woman and title, of course, suggest the mythological Andromeda. She was raped by Cetus, at Poseidon’s request, and chained to a rock from which she is rescued by Perseus. There seems to be no rescue for this Andromeda, just propitiation. On the other hand, that is a redress of compared to the classical Andromeda.
It appears this story was the beginning of a three part series by Kiernan.
The story is memorable but yet unsatisfyingly obscure at points. Perhaps another reading will make it clearer.