I recently had the pleasure of listening to Laird Barron’s book The Croning on audio book and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely. I believe I read a story by Barron called “The Forest” once before and I remember I found the ending to be quite chilling, but for whatever reason I did not seek out more of his work. I can’t say why, but I had an idea of him in my head as leaning too hard on tough guy characters, to the point of assuming much of his writing would read as cliched.
Searching for audiobooks to listen to at work, I decided to give the Croning a try, and although I don’t think I was entirely wrong about Barron’s protagonists, I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Barron’s style brings to mind Jack London and RE Howard much more than Micky Spillane, which is to say, his characters are not one note, although the book does faintly drip with machismo.
There is heavy drinking and plenty of frank sexual description, but the narrator is far from a tough guy. For much of the story, the protagonist is in his eighties, and he is never depicted as being in control of the situation or even close to it. I won’t discuss the plot at length, but there is the usual stuff – grim, matriarchal cults worshiping an epochal entity known only as “Old Leech.” Servitor characters who seem to have skittered thier way out of Tod Browning’s Freaks. Rumpelstiltskin. The frightening disintegration of mental control and reality.
Since it is somewhat the site’s purview to relate things to Call of Cthulhu the role playing game and Lovecraft in general, for those who are not aware, Barron’s actual prose does not read or feel much like Lovecraft, but as the above paragraph suggests, there are certainly themes of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, although the more visceral nature of the characters tends to create a more gut wrenching and immediate horror. The Croning won’t feel out of place to the COC RPG player, either. There are sections of this book which may resemble a Call of Cthulhu campaign, and if, like me, you are tired of fishmen and Nyarlathotep, using the Cult of Old Leech in your game will be both familiar enough to entertain the easily amused and novel enough to interest those who might be losing it.
I am now convinced to seek out more Laird Barron. I may move on to his short story collection, Occultation, or I may skip ahead to the recently released “tribute album” of Barron inspired fiction, the Children of Old Leech.
Have you read Laird Barron? If anyone can recommend me somewhere to go from here, I’d love to hear it. I’d also be interested in any recommendations for Weird Fiction audiobooks of quality.