Laird Barron is one of those authors who I always feel like I should read more of. I have delved, several times, into his Imago Sequence and Other Stories and the first story from that collection, “Old Virginia” ranks somewhere in the upper echelon of my favorites though and is one the more well regarded horror collections released in 21st Century. As I’ve said in the past I am not the best of short fiction readers so when I saw that Barron was slated to have his first full novel released in 2012 I was suitably excited to see what he could do in the long form. While I initially grabbed the publisher’s eARC via Netgalley I was dismayed to note that it was a PDF which I quickly abandoned to wait for the final version to hit shelves. Publishers remember this: PDFs are bad. Seriously, they do not conform well to e-readers unless your goal is annoy readers and give them headaches with tiny print. Thankfully The Croning was released without a hitch in the imminently more readable ePub (or in my case, Nook) format.
The Croning is a languid story about one man’s encounter with the dark, hidden side of the world. A dark, hidden side of the world that is born almost directly from fairy tales we think we know but watered down by years of adaptation. Over the course of the novel the novel’s protagonist Donald Miller incesantment and foolishly scratches away at the gloss that hides the truth not only of his wife and marriage but of the very foundations of the cosmos itself. This is not a happy novel, there is no optimism here, no light at the end of the tunnel. The Croning, in the traditional of supernatural horror writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood (the languid prose in many sections reminded me of the slow build of tension and dread in “The Willows”), is about the uncovering terrible truths sort of like opening Pandora’s box except wherein not even hope remains.