I will admit that I do not usually read horror. Not for any particular reason, other than that my interests lean toward general fiction, young adult and poetry. But I am not one to turn my nose up at a book just because it falls into a particular genre; some of the best books I’ve read have been when I venture out of my comfort zone. So I approached Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All and Other Stories as an open-minded reader.
The stories, while set in different times and locations, all operate in a universe governed by the same ideology. We view different aspects of this universe, sometimes delving deep or just scratching the surface. Perhaps “Vastation” describes it best, “the Old Ones sometimes rouse from their obliviousness to humanity and send questing tendrils to identify and extract those who excite their obscene, yet unknowable interest.” The “Old Ones” are also called “the great old inheritors of the Earth who revel and destroy, and scarcely notice puny us at all.”
My personal favorites were “Hand of Glory” and “Blackwood’s Baby.” The main characters are the rough and tumble sort, a second generation contract killer and a world-travelled big game hunter, respectively. Barron paints the portrait of damaged men who get by in this world through brute force until they come up against a force stronger and more brutal than they can imagine.
If you are looking for the story entitled “The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All,” you will not find it in the index. The title comes from the final story, “More Dark.” My tolerance for "More Dark" was not very high; the first person narrator is a horror writer attending an author reading by the mysterious and awe-inducing “L.” This scenario creates the effect of raising Barron (Laird = L) to a godlike status while making fun of himself via the narrator, but he (or you or I) learn that there is a price for not taking L (or Laird or those pesky tendrils) seriously.
Caleb Wilson, my coworker and accomplished horror/scifi writer, enjoyed “More Dark” much more than I did, being able to recognize the name-dropping and genre references. So, if you are an avid horror reader, perhaps this story will speak more to you than it did to me. My biggest issue with Barron is that I don’t appreciate his use of humor. I love dark and twisted humor, but his ironic brand of satire did not sit well on my palate.
But even if you are not an avid horror reader, or if you are concerned you also will not appreciate his humor, there is definitely plenty to love about this collection. The depth of his characters and his well-developed landscapes make most of his stories engaging reads.