Varied Inhabitants

A special Sirenia Digest came out a few days ago, one containing a new story, “Refugees”, about Caitlin R. Kiernan’s albino monster hunter, Dancy Flammarion. Though this popular character has appeared in prose and comics now for over fifteen years, it’s unusual to see her in the Sirenia Digest, and in a full story, too, not a vignette. And it’s a particularly good one.

Told in non-linear first person, “Refugees” gracefully weaves in and out of dream logic. Dancy encountering an ogre or an undead bird is solid and fascinating fantasy but shifts from a vision of herself flying with big, black wings and witnessing a party of monsters dancing to “The Ballad of Casey Jones” on a freight train contain the kind of crossed wires of rational thinking typically characteristic of dream logic. Much as the appeal of Alice in Alice in Wonderland is the character’s unfailing but idiosyncratic sensibility, Dancy, as ever, ploughs ahead despite her fear and her own evident contradictions.

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The final section of the story, taking place in a decrepit house inhabited by the titular “Refugees” could be seen as an ode to one of Caitlin’s favourite books, The House of Leaves, and also as a fascinating commentary on the underlying psychology of American cultural history. Instead of simply the ideal of the huddled masses welcomed to American shores, the house Dancy ends up in encompasses a menagerie of dreams and ways of interpreting the world and the hostess represents not a theoretical future but the pre-Civil War south. The subtle link drawn between the house’s inhabitants serves as a fascinating commentary on the history of cultural suffering and how it’s often interpreted, or not interpreted.

And it’s wonderfully atmospheric for those wish to go no farther than the surface of something which may or may not have been intended to be symbolic. A really nice story.

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