Review: The Croning by Laird Barron

The Croning by Laird Barron
The Croning by Laird Barron

The Croning
Laird Barron
Nightshade, 2012

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.

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Best Horror of the Year: When the Zombies Win and –30–

Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow
Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow

-At the Riding School by Cody Goodfellow

-Mr. Pigsny by Reggie Oliver

City of the Dog by John Langan

-Just Outside Our Windows, Deep Inside Our Doors by Brian Hodge

-Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge

When the Zombies Win by Karina Summer-Smith

I’m only going to spare this story the barest of space.  It isn’t scary in the least.  It is certainly fun and amusing but there is a tongue-in-cheek cuteness that makes me question its placement in this anthology.  A weird choice that is thankfully short.  It reminded me of the story about Santa Claus from Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors.

–30– by Laird Barron

I’ve had experience with Laird Barron’s work and am particularly fond of his Old Virginia from The Imago Sequence and Other Stories.  –30– is a lengthy story that combines a lot of interesting elements that work well together just about as often as they don’t work together at all.  The story takes place at an isolated research post in the middle of a former farm community now reclaimed by the wilderness.  What they are researching involves the area’s coyotes but hints of the area’s dark past and the ominous information gleaned about the group funding the  outpost call the true designs of the station into question.  There is a bit of a Lord of the Flies element here as well and the isolation and monotony of the two researchers begins to eat away at their sanity.  Or does it?  –30– manages to walk that fine line between outright supernatural presence and more mundane explanations.  Barron combines strong elements of psychological and emotional tension with classic horror tropes (something knocking on the door in the night, brief glimpse of something on a recorded video, etc) to heighten the tension.  The story sort of disintegrates at the end, I expect deliberately, and while there are certainly lingering questions when all is said and done the story is still satisfying.