Sam's Reviews > The Croning

The Croning by Laird Barron
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May 07, 12

Read from April 23 to May 05, 2012

This is a stellar book, in many senses of that word. Firmly implanting the cosmic in "cosmic horror," Laird Barron's first novel takes a number of threads started in his short stories and weaves them into a stunning gallows rope. The longer novel format gives Barron the space to lay out a deep back story and slowly simmer his nightmarish stew, as opposed to the microwave oven necessitated by the short story form.

The Croning tells the story of aged geologist Don Miller and his anthropologist wife Michelle Mock. Jumping around between three different periods in their shared life, we meet their family and associates, as well as government agents and the ancient cult of Old Leech, familiar from some of Mr. Barron's previous stories. Unfolding for the most part in his familiar Pacific Northwest locales, the strange family histories of the Millers and the Mocks slowly but surely crystallizes into a soul-shattering fugue of doom and unthinkable horror.

Barron includes enough of the mundane and the familiar in the story to give it a good grounding. To his credit, the settings seem very real, even when very unreal things are occurring. As the tension ratchets up and the story starts moving faster and faster, the little details and realistic touches from earlier in the book lay a nice groundwork for the creeping dread and awful realizations to come.

Mr. Barron's central theme strikes me as an alloy forged from classic Lovecraftian cosmic horror, Thomas Ligotti's idea of The Darkness, and his own unique rare-earth minerals. This overarching mythology has been teased and hinted at in previous stories, and here it is laid bare. If I have any quibble with this book, it would be that the concepts underlying the "Barronic Mythos" (to quote T. E. Grau) are almost too illuminated. The story features some nice twists and reveals right up until the end; when that end is reached, it appears there is little ambiguity left regarding the story of Old Leech and related entities.

Still, at this point I trust Barron implicitly. I have liked or (more frequently) loved everything he has written to date. He is a well-reasoned and seasoned writer of exceptional quality, and The Croning is one of the best novels I have read in quite some time, horror or otherwise. Beautiful and brutal, with genuine skin-crawling moments shuffled in with scenes of wide-eyed wonder. I predict you will see this book on many Best of 2012 lists and awards ballots.

Laird Barron has proven, definitively, that he can write long stories that are just as effective as his short fiction, and I'm looking forward to reading more, much more, of this unique man's singular and haunting vision.
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