Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Night Shade Books, 2010
Laird Barron (“Occultation” is only his second book) have already been christened a successor of Lovecraft and the most promising writer in the horror genre. Barron had managed to get shortlisted for genre awards, won genre awards, and published his stories in year’s best anthologies. Is this good author's collection (three stories here original to the book)? Absolutely. Is this good horror collection? Not quite sure. Here's why.
Among nine stories and novellas in the book, the most powerful seem «The Forest», "The Lagerstätte", "Mysterium Tremendum", "The Broadsword" and "- 30 -. It is rather novelettes, and this is their advantage. When the Barron has enough room to display his talent, he is much more skillful and accurate. In these five stories the author can create such a dark atmosphere that even if you read this book during the day, always seems that now it is night. These works have the same features: extremely morbid attitude of the heroes of stories with the world. If the other stories in the collection, "Occultation", "Catch Hell", "Strappado", "Six Six Six", nightmare creatures (and sometimes they are hard to be named creatures - just something ghastly) appear as if suddenly, that all horrible, inexplicable, inhuman comes from outside, creating in some sort of surprise, in the already mentioned 5 other stories the beyond has no need to come from nowhere - it was as if baked in the system of the world according to Barron. And this creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and doom much stronger. In «The Forest» cinematographer comes to the forests of New England, where discovers that his fellow scientists conduct bizarre experiments on insects. All the time, while Partridge is in camp with friends, Barron describes as a viscous drowsiness of cinematographer, from the first pages you realize that something inexplicable, daze is already embedded in the genes of the story. And to survive, you need to change the cover. In "The Lagerstätte" woman loses in an accident her husband and son. Her life becomes a phantom: she goes to a therapist, trying to extricate herself from the depths of the memory of the victims, but the memories again and again pounce on her. Son and her husband return to her, and the woman does not know who they are and who she is now. "Mysterium Tremendum" (aka Black Guide) is a book a few friends find in a shop. It describes the strange places of the district where guys live. A wild journey of two gay couples turns into a nightmare. The old man and a resident of the hotel "The Broadsword" once lost a friend in Vietnam. He was not just killed, he had a something worse - he was kidnapped. The old man does not know, but guesses that kidnappers were not human. Tormented by not being able to save a friend many years ago, the old man lives as in delirium. Up until the victim's friend comes to visit remaining in human form old man. Even those stories that seem to be less strong as the stories are well-plotted.
Barron is also a very skilled stylist, also with brisk dialogues. Sometimes speech of the characters seems fake, but nevertheless you realize that people in principle say that way.
Repetitive elements fly through most of the stories: masks, doctors, dead children, young couples, worms. Attractiveness of Barron’s prose in the fact is that he never shows the thoughts of his characters. Heroes are absolutely transparent. It is ideally suited to the type of prose the author creates.
Why as a horror collection "Occultation" does not fully work? Laird Barron is a very talented writer as a realist. His prose is palpable, accurate in detail, even realistic, if I may say that about horror. Even the beyond in his stories so firmly encased in the reality that they do not contradict each other and make a whole. Is a horror story capable now to scary someone? I do not know. Not me. Besides that, the collection has another flaw, very serious. Novelettes and stories in it are generally very similar to each other. They are plotted on the same principle. Because of that the book is hard to read from cover to cover.
After «Occultation» it will be hard period for Laird Barron. If he does not create something new, doesn’t go to another level, it will be very good, but the repetition of the old. For the writer there is nothing worse than this.