Before I write more about this short story collection, I'll mention that this review is based on a corrected PDF ARC.
I'd been anxiously waiting for Laird Barron's The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, because his previous short story collections (The Imago Sequence and Occultation) and the debut novel, The Croning, were excellent books, so I was excited when I got a chance to read it. I was very impressed by it, because Laird Barron has developed as an author and writes even more unsettling, visceral and hauntingly beautiful stories than before.
Before I begin to analyze the contents of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, I'll briefly mention that it's a perfect short story collection for fans of dark fantasy and horror. Its dark stories will be of interest to everybody who loves good horror fiction and appreciates the different nuances of dark fantasy, horror and weird fiction.
What's interesting is that some of the stories in this collection are almost like short novels, because they're surprisingly long short stories.
This collection contains the following nine stories:
- Blackwood's Baby
- The Redfield Girls
- Hand of Glory
- The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven
- The Siphon
- Jaws of Saturn
- The Men from Porlock
- More Dark
Because I've read many horror stories and novels, it's easy for me to say that Laird Barron is an author who has a distinct voice of his own. In his previous collections Laird Barron proved that he's the new master of modern horror stories. After reading these new stories I can say that he's probably the best living horror author, because only a handful of modern authors (Richard Gavin, W. H. Pugmire, Livia Llewellyn etc) are as good as him and are capable of writing about diverse characters and things.
Laird Barron's prose is - as always - beautiful, evocative and wonderfully descriptive. It's a sheer delight to read his stories, because the gracefully flowing and nuanced prose punctuates the shocks and surprises. Because I like good and descriptive prose, I enjoyed reading these stories.
Some of these stories are truly unsettling and psychologically challenging stories. They have a hard hitting emotional impact on the readers, so I'm sure that several readers will be thinking about these stories for a long time after they've read them. The happenings will linger in the reader's mind.
In these stories Laird Barron uses superstition, mystical elements, mythology, paranoia, relationships, everyday life and weirdness as tools to create feelings of dread. For example, in Blackwood's Baby he combines hunting, superstition and mystical elements and creates a menacing atmosphere, which makes the reader want to know what happens at the end of the story. It's an exceptionally fine story about a group of hunters and a stag called Blackwood's Baby.
What I like most about Laird Barron is that he has an ability to add sense of fear and dread gradually. He knows that it's much more shocking to refer to threatening and horrible things than reveal everything to the reader, because a more direct approach to deliver shocks wouldn't be as effective as slowly growing sense of dread. In other words, what you don't see is much more horrifying than what you see.
In my opinion Laird Barron understands human nature amazingly well and knows how people can react in different and unexpected situations that cause them to question their sanity and view of the world. This adds a lot of depth to these stories, because the actions of the characters and their feelings of the happenings are an essential part of the subtle storytelling.
Laird Barron's fully fleshed out characters are wonderful, because the characterization is perfect (no matter what he writes about, the characters are always interesting in his stories). The characters in these stories range from hunters and teachers to lesbians and mob enforcers. The author has a fascinating way of writing about their lives and fates, because he writes about who they are and what they do. When the reader gets to know the characters, he/she cares about them and when something sinister happens the shocking moments feel more horrifying (this is one of the reasons why these stories are so unforgettable and disturbing).
For example, the teachers in The Redfield Girls are realistic and when the reader notices what's happening to them, it's impossible to stop reading about their fates. Hand of Glory is another good example of Laird Barron's ability to create interesting and believable characters, because the main character is a mob enforcer and wants to avenge what happened to his father (Johnny is a surprisingly complex character).
Laird Barron also writes fluently about the relationships between the characters (and all things related to them). In The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven he writes believably about a lesbian couple who gets into trouble. Lorna and Miranda are almost like living and breathing people, because they have their own problems. Lorna's abusive husband and Lorna's fear of him adds an extra dimension of depth to her character and to their relationship (in my opinion Lorna's feelings are described perfectly).
Many of Barron's stories belong to the Pacific Northwest Mythos and share similar themes, names and places. For example, readers will notice that The Men from Porlock features certain names that have been used in other stories. I think that readers who are familiar with Laird Barron's stories will notice how easily the author writes about the Pacific Northwest themes, and how lovingly he describes the different places and wild areas of Northwestern America. The lush forests and remote places come to life in these stories.
It's possible that several readers may wonder if this collection contains cosmic horror. The answer is yes - these stories contain cosmic horror (or at least traces of it, because cosmic horror rises from different sources in these stories). I won't write more about this subject, because I try to avoid spoilers.
These stories take place in the past and in the modern times. The author writes wonderfully about the historical happenings and modern way of life. Blackwood's Baby and The Men from Porlock are good examples of how well Laird Barron writes stories with a historical setting, because both of these stories take place in the past and they're both stories about men who face horrors. In both stories the author creates a fantastic atmosphere by telling about the men and the surroundings in a descriptive way - his prose evokes the isolation and fear that the men feel.
I read Vastation a few months ago when I read Cthulhu's Reign (edited by Darrell Schweitzer). It was an interesting and a bit different kind of a story and I liked it then. Now that I read it again I liked it even more, because I'd had time to think about it and its happenings. I think it's possible that readers may react in different ways to this story, because it's definitely "something different". To describe it shortly, it's a challenging story about the existence and nature of a powerful and weird being.
The Siphon is a fascinating story about Lancaster who works for NSA. He is ordered to investigate Dr. Christou, an anthropologist. It's an impressive combination of spying, mythology and cosmic horror.
More Dark gets a special mention from me, because readers who are familiar with horror literature (and all possible things related to it) will have a good time reading it. It offers chills and laughs in equal measures, because the author has a sharp and macabre sense of humour. I think it will be easy for readers to figure out which person the author refers to when he writes about Tom L.
It's difficult for me to choose my favourite stories, because I enjoyed reading all of them. If I had to choose only three stories, I'd probably say that my favourites were Blackwood's Baby, The Men from Porlock and The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven, because they were truly unforgettable and unsettling stories, but The Redfield Girls, The Siphon and Hand of Glory also caught my attention.
One of the most important reasons why I love these stories is that Laird Barron uses weird fiction to his advantage (the roots of his stories lie in weird fiction, but he modernizes it in intriguing ways). I'm sure that everybody, who has read H. P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Edgar Allan Poe, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson and other classic authors, will notice how they have influenced Laird Barron's writing style - their influence can be seen in all of these stories. I think it can be said that Laird Barron writes modern dark fantasy, horror and weird fiction with an old-fashioned twist.
Because I read The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All in PDF format, I have to mention that it went immediately to my "must buy" list. I'm sure that everybody, who loves good dark fantasy and horror, wants to own this collection in hardcover format.
If you like quality horror, beautiful prose and want to be shocked in a genuinely scary way, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a perfect and rewarding short story collection for you. There are plenty of shocking moments and creeping horror in this collection, so you will be positively surprised when you read the stories. The combination of psychological fear, Lovecraftian weirdness and poignant prose will seduce you.
I can highly recommend this collection to experienced horror readers and newcomers. If you've never read Laird Barron before, this collection is a good starting point, because it's difficult to find better modern dark fantasy and horror.
Very highly recommended!