Friday, June 3, 2011

Riffing on a New Master: Laird Barron

Gonna riff on Laird Barron, the finest new writer of horror fiction to come along in a couple decades at least, because I’ve been wanting to write something about him for a while, and, since my brain is wired that way right now, kind of a stream-of-consciousness need to say something, well…let’s see what pours out.

Laird Barron, demonic genius or simply giggling madman? His stories pack such wallop as to knock the willing reader sideways, slipping into his lair of grim damnation, where ancient forces toy with us--humans--because we deserve the toying; where forever stretches not only forward, but behind us, the rear view mirror cluttered with oily tendrils and lunatic aspirations, and sprinkled with the sick glee of those in pursuit.

Resonance in horror fiction is often risible, the foundations for many tales lack depth, substance that resonates beyond the page. Barron, on the other hand, the other one, or the other one, the one holding the bloodied pen or smearing grue on the keyboard, packs his stories with such fathomless depth as to dip us in the viscous substance and allow it to seep into our pores.

This resonance has teeth.

This resonance perseveres…

His characters face horrors that transcend not just time and space, but perception. Reality caters to no laws. The deep hallucinatory vibe that paints many of his stories in the blackened hues of the dead rainbow snuggles into the brainpan and prods with insistence.   

Anything is possible.

That’s always been my primary guideline when writing fiction: anything is possible. Clive Barker once wrote, “I forbid my mind nothing.” Well, Barron’s taken it a few steps--or light years--beyond even that. His mind is a place of rare brilliance, peering in on monstrosities not only of the flesh, be it alien and disturbing, though still human--mutations or weird evolution, depending on perception, leer from the nooks and crannies and dark pockets of his world--but of mind’s twisted in such ways as to allow these monstrosities room to roam freely. The psychological nuances--though often with the minds scarred from being witness to that which no longer lurks in the shadows, but has slunk out into view, to shake one's hand--pack unnerving ooomph that we all can relate to in some human way.

Read “Hallucinogenia,” “Mysterium Tremendium,” “The Imago Sequence,” The Forest,” “The Broadsword,” “Old Virginia"--read them all!  The impact for me was profound. I heard bells tolling; I sensed the malicious chords being strummed; the music was dissonant and unnerving, yet I could not turn it off because it was in my head now, the external force of the words finding a fresh mind to corrupt.

His words sang to me and I listened, oh yes: I willingly paid the price…

That’s what I get with much of Barron’s work, this sense of a fullness of imagination, of every sense gathered in union, participation; of being pushed to new and unexplored terrains within the mind. But as with Lovecraft and Barker and a few others before him, Barron’s able to inspire such strange dread I cannot resist its lure; my mind is opened as an chasm, wanting to be filled with his pitch black tales.

So, I read on. And On.

The work resonates because it does not depend on that which came before. It may be imbued with it, of course, but writers like Lovecraft, Barker and Barron pay fierce attention to their own ideals, their willingness to not only look under the sheet we’ve pulled up to our eyeballs, but to play with whatever lurks there, to get to really know and understand it on a level most writers simply cannot imagine. His personal history amidst the wilderness--he used to run the Iditarod and has noted his youth in Alaska was harsh, filled with extreme poverty and worse--plays a key role in his getting the vibe right, getting it real.  Here's a link to an interview in which he outlines some of the rough times:

Or perhaps the work resonates because writers of that ilk have got better style, man. 

Barron’s got two books out so far, The Imago Sequence & Other Stories , and, Occultation and Other Stories. They are not simply recommended, they are mandatory reading!

A hundred years and more from now, when historians specializing in Horror look back, they’ll note the masters--Poe, Lovecraft, Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, Barker, etc., and near the top of that list will be Laird Barron. Why? Because he’s that good. We are lucky to be present as his work unfolds. Trust me on this, buy those two books and look forward to what follows with deep anticipation because Barron’s the real deal. Barron’s work is timeless; Barron's work is classic.

Okay, well, that's me crackin' open the noggin' and letting what's inside pour across the keyboard.  Ragged but fun, I hope and, again, be sure to check out his work. You will not be disappointed.


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