Laird Barron’s The Croning starts off well. I was immediately hooked by the introductory chapter. This chapter is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story, the tale of the search for a dastardly dwarf through ancient lands. The seeker is attempting to uncover the dwarf’s secret identity in order to annul a bargain between the Queen and the dwarf – royalty and riches in return for her child. This chapter serves as the origin of the main character, Don Miller’s, ancestral association with the pervasive evil that touches his life and those around him.
We are then taken through times in Don’s life when he comes into contact with the same evil forces, although he doesn’t realize what he’s dealing with for much of the book. His memory blocks out key events and traumas. For example, he remembers little of his harrowing run-in with the occult in Mexico. The main narrative catches up with Don in the 1980s. A murky family history hides secrets. His wife, Michelle, might not be what she appears to be. A cult and conspirators lurk in the shadows.
The Croning is exceptionally well written, with much more sophisticated prose than typical horror fare. Then again, this is far from a typical horror novel. The jumping around in time is a little distracting, but that is a minor quibble. The ancient themes and the scale of the cosmic evil are very Lovecraftian in nature. The horror is subtle – not the visceral kind that I am most used to. It’s intriguing and enjoyable to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. The mystery keeps you invested throughout. Don is a likeable and sympathetic character who you really want to see as the victor. The supporting cast of characters is a mixed bag of mostly interesting people. The threat of age and dementia is always a cloud hanging over Don. The idea of mental frailty and our faculties failing us is one of the most frightening aspects of the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but it was excellent. The slow build up in the book leads to huge reveals in the final chapters, as the plot reaches the boiling point and questions are answered.
I enjoyed The Croning. It was a pleasant change of pace and a refreshing read. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ll be looking for more great novels from the author.
Book Cover Blurb:
Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight. Black magic, weird cults and worse things loom in the shadows. The Children of Old Leech have been with us from time immemorial. And they love us. Donald Miller, geologist and academic, has walked along the edge of a chasm for most of his nearly eighty years, leading a charmed life between endearing absent-mindedness and sanity-shattering realization. Now, all things must converge. Donald will discover the dark secrets along the edges, unearthing savage truths about his wife Michelle, their adult twins, and all he knows and trusts. For Donald is about to stumble on the secret…of The Croning.