52 Book Challenge: Laird Barron

27 Mar

Last year, book 135 out of 137 was Laird Barron’s Occultation. It was love at first read–I was smitten beyond belief. Barron is a hard writer to describe: he is clearly influenced very heavily by Lovecraft, to the point where some of his worldbuilding seems almost like H.P fanfiction, but the atmosphere he creates is uniquely terrifying. Also I’m a Lovecraft fangirl and Laird Barron is the closest thing I’ve seen to him in the modern age without a ton of unnecessary sex & violence added (don’t even talk to me about Poppy Z Brite). So when I found out he had three other books for me to read in 2014, I was hella happy. But maybe I shouldn’t have been.

The-Croning

{Proceed with caution, mid-level spoilers all up in this bitch}

My first mistake was starting with The Croning, his novel. Occultation and his other 2 books are collections of short stories. It is where he shines. The Croning starts off with a novella featuring a grim retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and it may be my favorite thing he has ever written. It’s just… I can’t describe it, go read it. But really, don’t bother reading the rest of the book.

Barron is great at tension. In small amounts. The Croning stretches out over hundreds of pages, with a plot meant to fill perhaps 50. Nothing happens for a long, long swath of time. The reader instead has to sift through boring memories of the main character, tracing clues to the weird but inevitable conclusion. There are several callbacks to stories in Occultation, which was delightful, but all in all I felt so disappointed. Even the climactic scene in the woods fell flat, with absolutely no resolution. Also, The Croning is about an actual event, a Croning, and we don’t get to see it. What even. The narrative scope is way too limited. And to put a nail in the coffin the introductory novella is only loosely connected, sigh.

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The Imago Sequence is a collection of nine stories, but before looking back at the full list I only remembered two of them. The titular “Imago Sequence,” which is a clever riff on Lovecraft’s “Pickman” but nothing to write home about (though the ending is clever), and “Hallucigenia,” a story so profoundly weird and strange and beautiful I still think about it. A lot. What was up with the horse? Where did the big head even come from? Ah, it’s so good. Gives me writing tingles.

I consider a collection of short stories a success overall if one of them sticks with me, but I was SO disappointed in the rest. Most were dull and/or predictable, with drug-use-causing-memory-loss an annoying theme. Wow drugs are bad okay we get it don’t do drugs if you live in a parallel universe with eldritch horrors. One of the stories, “Bulldozer,” was so boring I was begging it to be over. And the horror/supernatural element took about 30 pages to really come into play in “The Procession of the Black Sloth” which didn’t even have any sloths, let alone black fuzzy ones, so that was a bummer.

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Last chance, Laird! Just kidding, he has one book out I haven’t read, plus he can always publish more for the sole purpose of pleasing me. This book had two killer stories and I don’t remember the rest (okay, I looked them up and now I remember and wish I didn’t, “Blackwood’s Baby” UGH). One of my main annoyances with Laird Barron’s work so far has been that he built this great, overarching cosmos of horror in Occultation, and it only peeks up briefly in Imago and The Croning. Barely a whisper of it, really. But in “The Men from Porlock” oh boy. They’re back in action. I missed you, giant space slug. Truly.

“Porlock” starts out slowly but is one of the most terrifying stories I have ever read. One particularly gruesome scene has been lingering in my head for some time now… not because of the gore, surprisingly. Barron wields words masterfully, and the oppressive atmosphere makes for a particularly bloody and claustrophobic mix in this particular story.

Then there’s “The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All,” the bastard love child of “Pickman’s Model” and Night Film. Surreal is the only way to explain it–and I know I cannot do it justice, so go read it. But read Occultation first, and then cherry pick from the rest of his works.

Book 7 The Croning Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

Book 8 The Imago Sequence Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

Book 10 The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

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