The Ape's Wife and Other Stories by Caitlín R Kiernan has been sitting on my Kindle app for far too long, and I'm glad that I've finally gotten around to reading it – especially since some folks have drawn parallels between her writing and mine (why thank you). First off, as with all short story anthologies, whether single or multiple authors, this is a mixed bag. I gelled with some and not with others, and to go into a deep dive about each story is going to go beyond the scope of this review.
A diverse range of stories is showcased here, from steampunk-infused and somewhat Lovecraftian to plain old weird and re-envisionings of Beowulf told from a queer feminist perspective. I'm not going to go exhaustively into each, as I feel that will ruin the magic and mystery. What I will say is that if you're expecting neat, tidy endings with satisfying twists and likeable characters, maybe step away from this collection and go read Somerset Maugham or Saki.
Kiernan's prose is textured and tactile, and her tales often left me feeling out of sorts and scratchy behind the eyes – all hallmarks of good storytelling. This is not a book I'd recommend for anyone who's looking for comfort reading. I'd hazard to say that each story encapsulates a mood and a setting, and emphasis is mostly placed on emotion and engaging the senses to detriment of a tidy plot. And if that is what floats your boat, then hey, this will work for you. Kiernan doesn't shy away from characters who often maintain objectionable outlooks and opinions, so if you're easily triggered by casual racism and sexism, perhaps step away from this book, too. I feel I must add that some readers appear to be incapable of separating the author from their characters. [le sigh]
As a publishing professional, I feel I must point out that my edition was riddled with small typos of the kind that a savvy proofreader should have caught. I tend to overlook the odd dropped word here and there, but this volume could have done with a more thorough read through before it was published.
This anthology is disquieting and darkly atmospheric, and while not to everyone's tastes, is nevertheless a lovely dip into the writing of one of our important contemporary SFF authors.