THE BEAUTIFUL THING THAT AWAITS US ALL by Laird Barron

beautiful

This is not a review. “The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All” (Nightshade Books, 2013), Laird Barron’s latest collection, is one of those books that hardly seems to need a recommendation. Barron does not write the sort of horror fiction horror fans normally encounter, and this is what adds to its potent efficacy. So often, the genre is left toothless by the repetition of common tropes, and the knee-jerk response is to turn the horrors more and more inward, to heighten the reader’s fear through empathizing with wispy ineffectual losers, or suburban parents. These are grounded relatable everyday fears writ large. Barron is the opposite: his characters are tough, rugged men, used to lives working with their hands (occasionally doing so by placing those hands around other people’s throats), and we don’t empathize with them at all. We barely understand them, and, if anything, popular media has taught us to admire them. They are the sort of toughs one might watch in a film, taking down scores of faceless villains to protect a daughter, or former lover. They are brave and unflappable and über-capable. So when they encounter things that are terrifying, we expect them to survive intact. We expect them to prevail. When they don’t, when they too are impossibly terrified, when they too are unable to comprehend, let alone dispatch the darkness, we feel our own terror multiplied, our own sense of security destroyed. This is arguably infinitely more frightening then the fey intellectual scholar losing his sanity, or the emotionally damaged single father whose child had turned against him. Barron show us the failure of our strongest means there’s no hope left for us. The darkness has won. It’s a neat trick, the way Barron manipulates us, and is arguably the first new approach to horror fiction in years.