I am a HUGE fan of Laird Barron’s work! I haven’t been as excited about an author of horror and weird fiction since I discovered Ramsey Campbell‘s work about two decades ago. Since I first ran across Barron’s work in the Haunted Legends anthology, I’ve snapped up all of his books, including his first collection The Imago Sequence, his second Occultation, and his first novel The Croning.*
When his next collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, appeared in September of this year, I purchased it immediately — however, work and life kept me from getting around to reading it until recently!
I’m glad I finally got to it! Beautiful Thing is another excellent collection of Barron’s, and in my opinion shows his writing is getting even better and more intriguing than it already was.
The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All collects together eight stories that appeared in different publications between 2010-2012 and one previously unpublished story, The Jaws of Saturn. All are beautifully written and well-worth reading; a few of my favorites are described below.
- Blackwood’s Baby. In the years after World War I, a select group of world-class hunters gather at the Black Ram Lodge, in the remote area of Ransom Hollow, for a unique challenge. They will attempt to bring down Blackwood’s Baby, a near-mythical stag of monstrous proportions. The area is also reputed to be the lair of the devil, however, and the gunmen will find that the prize they seek is not worth its terrible cost.
- The Redfield Girls. This was the first Barron story I read, and still one of my favorites! In the Pacific Northwest, a group of aging friends undertake a trip to Lake Crescent in the Pacific Northwest, a deep, cold and remote glacier lake with a dark history. One of the group has had premonitions of a watery doom at the lake, but even her visions cannot prepare them for the true horrors that await.
- Vastation. In much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, he refers to a time when the Great Old Ones will rise from their eternal slumber and bring doom upon humanity. In the supremely strange story Vastation, we get to see this event from the eyes of an immortal “human,” adrift in time in space and indifferent to his fellow man’s suffering.
- The Men From Porlock. 1923: In anticipation of a visit from the company head, a group of loggers for Bullhead & Co. head into the wilderness of the Olympic Range in search of deer for a fancy dinner at Slango Camp. Their exploration leads them to an ancient and unknown village hidden in a lost valley, and from there begins a night of madness and death from which none will escape unscathed.
As one can see from the synopses above, a number of Barron’s stories feature tough “men of action,” the types of characters he has featured regularly in his work. Many of the tales also feature a “cosmic horror” of a vaguely Lovecraftian style, though Barron puts his own unique spin on events and their implications. Reading this collection, it finally occurred to me that part of that spin really is the use of tough characters! In Lovecraft’s work, almost all stories feature highly educated men who, though they can’t change their horrific fate, at least understand it. The working-class men of Barron’s fiction are doubly out of depth in that they have no knowledge of the monsters they encounter, making their experiences even more mysterious and disturbing. It is ironic that Lovecraft, who famously observed that “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” made many of his characters extraordinarily aware of the unknown!
There is a nice string connecting this collection with at least one earlier one, Occultation, in the mention of a mysterious book known as The Black Guide: an odd “travel guide” of sorts of unknown provenance that directs readers to sites of supernatural import. It is Barron’s own wonderful twist on Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, and is a great inspiration for stories.
This collection felt a bit more experimental than previous ones: stories like Vastation, for instance, are so strange that they almost defy description. Many of the tales are less straightforward and more cryptic than Barron’s earlier writings. I personally love to see this, but readers new to his work might consider starting with The Imago Sequence or Occultation to get a “feel” for his more subtle writing.
In short, though: The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a wonderful collection by one of the best authors of horror working today.
* There’s also his novel The Light is the Darkness, which I have but have not had the chance to read yet!