If you can imagine the sharp, ruggedly matter-of-fact prose of Cormac McCarthy combined with the weird, cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft you will have gotten yourself on the map for Laird Barron’s wonderfully weird writings.
Laird Barron popped up on my radar about a year ago when a friend told me he’d picked up this great first short story collection by a new author. The collection was entitled The Imago Sequence and man, he said, it was good. “Like Lovecraft but without being like Lovecraft”. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time, but like I said, it put the man on my radar.
The like-but-not-like-H.P. analogy fits Barron because although his writing tends to revolve around a centralized cosmic mythos, he is not one of the many writers working within Lovecraft’s landscape. With Barron it is his own, strange and insectoid take on the idea that there are things lurking in the corner and shadows of the world. Things that occasionally intersect with us unsuspecting humans. These ‘rules’ drive his stories, which usually revolve around very real, very modern characters and the weak or confused moments in their lives that somehow draw them into those intersections. I do not take it lightly when I say these are the best short stories I have ever read, hands down. Procession of the Black Sloth – one of the stories within The Imago Sequence – was so damn haunting I finished it and immediately started reading it again.
I’ve never done that before.
Once I had finished the stories in The Imago Sequence I began Barron’s more recent collection, Occultation. I’m halfway through that one now and am continually, story after story, blown away by just how effective and verbose this guy is. Like McCarthy his exposition is at times curt and this adds to his ability to cast a very believable yet spectrally surreal aura over characters and events. And despite the mythos nothing ever feels like he’s retreading old ground, like say with August Derleth, who I like and respect but from whom one of two stories go a long way. Instead, with Mr. Barron each story is different despite their similar themes and centralization, and his continually powerful vocabulary, skillful word choices and sharp and succinctly directed description helps him craft lush and engaging moments that get inside your head and stay there.
Take for example the story Occultation. One of Mr. Barron’s shorter stories but also one of his most effective, it presents a situation both odd and terrifying, miniscule and massive. The two characters are shacked up in a cheap motel out in the middle of the desert; they’re drinking and screwing and basically just losing themselves in reckless abandon. The story begins when the woman notices a strange, dark shape on the wall across from them. Something about the shape disturbs her and as she slowly passes her fear off onto her partner they both toggle back and forth between a state of fear and dismissal by way of each other’s company. I don’t want to say too much more, but the way this plays out is so simple and yet so terrifyingly odd that after the gut-punch of the final sentence I literally set the book down and said aloud, “Wow”.
That doesn’t happen everyday.
The two aforementioned collections of short stories are at bookstores now – Occultation still in hardcover – both by way of the wonderful Night Shade Books, who will also be publishing the author’s first novel The Croning this coming April. In the meantime, if you read him and become obsessed as much as I have, you may want to consider finding a copy of his Novella titled, The Light is the Darkness, which was released in 2011 by Bloodletting Books and limited to a miniscule 174 copies (many of which seem to float around ebay quite often) and starts at a whopping $175 dollars for a beautiful, over-sized Hard Cover edition that I cannot currently afford, but probably will eventually break down and buy (unless someone please please please releases a Qp version for a more reasonable price once the collectibility has waivered a bit).
* Mr. Brown – who does he look like? Crazy, eh?