Laird Barron

Fried Egg

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I just thought this author deserves his own thread so I started one.

There are threads discussing his first two collections:

The Imago Sequence

Occultation

I've just finished reading his first novel: "The Croning". Here is mini review:

I don't buy many books soon after they come out but Barron is one of those I do, being one of my favourite contemporary horror authors. I approached this with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation, uneasy at how well Barron would adapt to writing a novel. I need not have worried.

Barron draws together, and more thoroughly elaborates on, themes he has touched upon in previous stories to deliver a more complete vision of overarching cosmic horror permeating every facet of our world and yet somehow managing to remain just out of sight for the majority. Our protagonist Doug Miller manages to remain in the dark, despite the entanglements of many of his friends and family due to his occasional memory loss but now events are going to come to head once again and he is due for a renewed bout of clarity.

At times, the build up felt somewhat slow and belaboured with the detailed descriptions of the branches of his extended family, colleagues and acquaintances but in retrospect, much of this was probably necessary for laying the groundwork for what was to come. No doubt I would benefit from a second reading in which I would find clues and indicators as to the nature of the cosmic conspiracy that I simply didn't realise the significance of the first time around.

Barron did not disappoint with his début novel that was superbly well crafted and left me ruminating on its haunting implications that will, no doubt, rattle around my mind for some time to come.
 
Hi, Egg.

Last year for another forum I wrote this about The Croning,
Don Miller, an elderly geologist, is married to Michelle, an anthropologist, whose career has flown higher than his in spite of her search for what her son calls, “the little people,” the type of research that ordinarily leads to being tagged as a crank and charlatan. Even in his eighties, Don still marvels at his luck in marrying such a beautiful, accomplished woman, in spite of her dark moods, in spite of his continued discomfort living in her family’s home, his vague but intense fear of the basement, his concerns over what else might be there. Michelle has always been a mystery: What did his grandfather know about her and her family’s past? What does she really do when attending her yearly conferences? And where was she really on their vacation to Mexico in 1958 when she was called away by her mentor? When she didn’t contact Don for days, he started searching for her and was nearly killed by hard men, former cops, with connections to Mexican intelligence agencies, supposedly helping him find her. And why did two National Security Agency agents track him down in 1980, trying to learn more about Michelle, her connections and activities? And what does their pregnant daughter-in-law confer with Michelle about?

And, more distressingly, why do Don’s memories of all this and more – memories of the pictures of the NSA agents sent him anonymously, of his trip to Camp Slango – fade so rapidly? Don worries about insipient dementia, but is it? And who is Old Leech and who are the Children of Old Leech?

Barron is the bright, new kid on the block, the latest to have the mantle of Lovecraft draped on his shoulders. This mainly stems from the strength of his short stories, many of which are collected in The Imago Sequence and Occultation, both collections from Night Shade Books. I’ve only read three of his stories, “Strappado,” (in Occultation and originally published in Poe, edited by Ellen Datlow) which I found somewhat repulsive and fascinating all the same, and which concerns a piece of vicious performance art; “Old Virginia,” a powerful horror story which revolves around an intelligence community mission gone badly, frighteningly sideways; and “Shiva, Open Your Eye,” also powerful, an odd story of a sculpture in progress (both stories in The Imago Sequence).

Those readers who have followed Barron’s career to date began salivating as soon as they heard of this novel. But the response has been mixed, some loving it and some disappointed. Such may be the result of exorbitant expectations. Having only read a few of his stories, I didn’t have those expectations and found the novel entertaining, maybe not the great American horror novel, but structurally complex, thematically intriguing and mostly well-written. The Croning shares some of the same influences as Caitlin Kiernan’s The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl, and Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark; if it doesn’t reach the complexity of and isn’t as assured as those novels, still I feel no hesitation nor have any reservations in recommending The Croning as an intense and sometimes disturbing read.

I agree that the novel would sustain a second reading -- I felt like there were things I may have missed, as well. But I doubt I'll reread it until I've read a more of his short stories. I think any reading would be strengthened by that familiarity.


Randy M.
 
Thanks for sharing that again. I do dimly recall you posting your thoughts on the novel a while back but couldn't remember where it was.

Shares influences with Campbell's "The Grin of the Dark", eh? I have that lined up to read soon...
 
Thanks for sharing that again. I do dimly recall you posting your thoughts on the novel a while back but couldn't remember where it was.

Shares influences with Campbell's "The Grin of the Dark", eh? I have that lined up to read soon...

Had I posted that before? I didn't recall. Sorry for the repetition.

Anyway, yes, there's a lot of (frequently subtle) Lovecraftian influence in what I've read by Campbell besides the work that is directly Lovecraftian. And I expect Campbell exerts a fair amount of influence on some recent writers like Barron and Caitlin Kiernan, among others.

It took me a little time to warm to The Grin of the Dark but it is an intricate and disquieting novel that announces it is Lovecraftian softly, without a lot of fanfare. By the end, I thought it one of the best things I've read by Campbell and it makes me want to dig deeper into his work.


Randy M.
 
Barron's latest collection turned up today: "The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All".

Can't wait to read it...
 
I found Occultation less satisfying than Imago, but some of the stories were as good as the ones in the first book, if not better. I never really got into 'The Forest', the setting and the people. The title tale is a wonderful little piece of slow building strangeness. Mysterium Tremendum rambled on a bit but there are scenes in it that will remain in my memory. 'The Broadsword' is the finest story in this collection, in my opinion. It was such a great character study and the setting so well realised I was a little disappointed, actually, when it took a turn towards cosmic horror. Also, almost all his characters are on such terrible alcohol benders in this book! I felt quite hungover after finishing it.
 
Also, almost all his characters are on such terrible alcohol benders in this book! I felt quite hungover after finishing it.
Yes, it carries on like that in the latest collection that I've started reading. Third story in and there's a lot of whisky being drunk, believe me!

One thing that's confused me slightly is even though it's called: "The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and other stories", there isn't actually a story called "The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All". The title definitely suggests that I should expect one!
 
I just finished this new collection and overall it was another very good effort.

The last story though, "More Dark" was quite bizarre. It appears to feature Barron himself as the protagonist/narrator who is invited, along with a couple of friends, to a rare public appearance of Thomas Ligotti. In the narrative, Barron offers a fair and balanced critique of Ligotti's work. The piece overall has a satirical tone but when the narrator launched a scathing critique of Mark Samuels I was quite shocked. He describes him as a "hack" and a "ligotti-lite".

On the Nightmare Network there is a thread in which this story was discussed and Mark himself posts his reaction to this story. Apparently they've never met and Mark didn't know what might have prompted such a personal attack.

It's a shame really, a sour note to an otherwise very fine collection. I'm a fan of both author's work wonder why Barron felt the need to say such things in a piece even if it is meant as satire.
 
I found Occultation less satisfying than Imago, but some of the stories were as good as the ones in the first book, if not better. I never really got into 'The Forest', the setting and the people. The title tale is a wonderful little piece of slow building strangeness. Mysterium Tremendum rambled on a bit but there are scenes in it that will remain in my memory. 'The Broadsword' is the finest story in this collection, in my opinion. It was such a great character study and the setting so well realised I was a little disappointed, actually, when it took a turn towards cosmic horror. Also, almost all his characters are on such terrible alcohol benders in this book! I felt quite hungover after finishing it.

I read The Cloning and haven't quite finished Imago... and I find the drinking in his stories interesting. These are almost one and all competent men, tough guys, hard-boiled characters, the kind who frequent dives, likely to drink heavily in the least stressful times. Then whatever they're up against pushes them toward their worst habits and crutches, taking advantage of their weaknesses so that the sense of unreality they fall into is either induced or accentuated or both by their proclivity to drink as an escape.

One of these days someone will an article titled something like, "Drinking and Use of Drinking in the fiction of Laird Barron."

Randy M.
 
These are almost one and all competent men, tough guys, hard-boiled characters, the kind who frequent dives, likely to drink heavily in the least stressful times.
A couple of stories in his most recent collection focused on all women characters; although there was still plenty of heavy drinking involved!
 
A couple of stories in his most recent collection focused on all women characters; although there was still plenty of heavy drinking involved!

Good. I look forward to reading those because his female characters haven't worked all that well so far. It's the strength of the rest of his writing that have carried the stories for me.

Randy M.
 
Just picked up his latest collection: "Swift to Chase". Can't wait to dive in...
 
Not sure. I enjoyed The Croning more than Joshi appears to have, but I wouldn't say that his criticisms are meritless. The novel does tease more than it reveals, which isn't exactly unheard of with Lovecraftian fiction, but was very noticeable in this one. Still, I thought it was worth a read.

I found some of the stories in Imago... disturbing enough that I've been slow to go back for more. "Old Virginia," though, may end up being some kind of weird fiction classic.

Joshi's right about some of the well-springs of Barron's work being hard-boiled fiction, spy stories, etc. It gives what I've read a distinctive style and sound, and Barron is a good writer. But I wonder how far you can tap into that before you need to change your approach. I also heard a while back that Barron was in ill-health, so if that's so and depending on how long that's been so, his writing could have suffered for it.

At any rate, some of his early work, if not his later work, would be of interest to anyone tracing Lovecraft's influence.
 
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