They Eat Babies, Don’t They?

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories by Laird Barron (Collected 2013) containing the following stories: Blackwood’s Baby (2011); The Redfield Girls (2010); Hand of Glory (2012); The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven (2011); The Siphon (2011); Jaws of Saturn (2012); Vastation (2010); The Men from Porlock (2011); and More Dark (2012):

As his fictional cosmos becomes denser and more awful with each new story, Laird Barron’s sense of humour has become more apparent. One of the jokes is in the collection’s title. Look at the contents. “The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All” is mentioned in the collection’s final, blackly satiric “More Dark”, but it’s a work by a thinly veiled parody of horror writer Thomas Ligotti. Hunh?

Barron certainly hasn’t transmogrified into a laugh-riot, but nonetheless assays one semi-parodic roman a clef (“More Dark”) and one warp-speed, semi-comic, ultra-cosmic cruise through the Cthulhu Mythos (“Vastation”) in this new collection. Lurking somewhere in each story is at least the shadow of Barron’s space-born, Earth-afflicting creation, the Children of Old Leech. As always, their sense of humour only amuses themselves.

He’s still the reigning champion of stories about tough, competent men faced with overwhelming, horrific evil. “The Men from Porlock” is a modern classic about a hunting expedition gone tragically wrong; it bears comparison to that foundational giant in the ‘Bad Camping Trip’ sub-genre of horror, Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.”

I love this story. It’s brutal and elegaic and startling. And its characters even manage to land a few punches on the snouts of those awful cosmic cancers, the Children of Old Leech, albeit at one remove. The day’s coming when somebody’s going to kill one of the Children of Old Leech in a Barron story, and that moment is going to be goddammed Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one.

Barron also continues to explore new voices and new approaches: all-female casts of protagonists in “The Redfield Girls” and “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven”; an extraordinarily unpleasant gangland stooge in “Jaws of Saturn”; a suicidal writer in “More Dark”; quite possibly the most disturbing vampires ever in “The Siphon.” Along the way, we revisit old haunts, most prominently the demon-haunted forests of Washington state and the demon-haunted rooms of Olympia, Washington’s Broadsword Hotel.

Well, really, the whole world is demon-haunted. But most of Barron’s protagonists keep plugging along, heads down, trying to move forward against the blood torrent. There’s a metaphysical lack of hope herein, but not complete hopelessness. Highly recommended.

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