Laird Barron does well in the 2010 Shirley Jackson Awards, but...

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Summary: Laird Barron is a horror writer that gets mentioned a lot lately, and he did well at the Shirley Jackson 2010 Awards, but the two stories of his that still haunt me failed to take their category. Ah well, I'll just talk them up here.

BLOT: (19 Jul 2011 - 11:48:33 AM)

Laird Barron does well in the 2010 Shirley Jackson Awards, but...

I like to mention Laird Barron when I can, though I try and tone it down a bit. Let it drip in, subdermally, in the rhythm and flow of my regular words. Today, I'll go ahead and front and center him a tad. He has done smashing things with his horror narratives, many of them longer-than-short in size and most featuring a broken person against an awry universe, wrapped in loss and facing more loss, about to receive some moment of truth. Some not nice, you might say, moment of truth. He had a fair number of nominations in the 2010 Shirley Jackson Awards: six of the thirty-two noms were for his works. And now that the winners are announced, he has managed to win two of the categories:

Now I like "Mysterium Tremendum", which has a good mix of [M.R. ]Jamesian/[Arthur ]Machenian anthropologisms with a Pacific Northwest setting and punkish characters (punks despite being a somewhat settled pair of gay couples). It tosses several elements into one, and brings them to a Barronian conclusion. And I, of course, like Occultation, one of the best single-author collections I have seen (which happens to include most of the other stories nominated in the various categories, "The Redfield Girls" being the exception).

It's just in the category for Novelette (in length between a short story and a novella, something like 8000 - 15,000 though I am sure these are suggestions mostly), Neil Gaiman took it with "Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains". I adore Gaiman's stuff, and I am sure it is a winner [I surprisingly haven't read it], but also in that category were two of Barron's works that are the two that I recommend for those who want to feel his style: "--30--" and "The Broadsword". The latter is connected, by motifs and I think intentionally, with "Mysterium Tremendum", and I've raved about it before in connection with reading S.T. Joshi's Black Wings, the Lovecraftian antho.

But "--30--" is a strange bad taste of a tale, a smoldering stench of horror that flavors your reading water and makes it A blend of menace, loss, failure, destroyed relationships, misunderstandings, predatorization, victimization, and dread all brewed together until it is dark and relentless. When you get to the end, and once you get past a certain point early on you will likely to get to the end because you have to know, you will know less about what happened than what you think happened. A sickening impression of something even worse than you can imagine, Lovecraft's infamous "unnameable" unnamed through the experience of reading it. It sticks with you. And, while I am sure the Gaiman story is great, the list of horror stories that left me feeling this paranoid about fox holes and dark corners is probably a short one.

If you get a chance to read "--30--", even if it didn't win Best Novelette, do so.


Written by Doug Bolden

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