The Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Info: Genre: Horror Reading Level: Adult Read: started 5/17/12; re-started 5/20/12 and finished 5/21/12
Disclosure: I received a free eGalley (eBook ARC) from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Oops, forgot to rate this!
Synopsis: 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. From Laird Barron, Shirley Jackson Award-winning author of The Imago Sequence and Occultation, comes The Croning, a debut novel of cosmic horror.
My Thoughts: An author whose work I really like – Brett Talley of That Which Should not Be fame – wrote in his review of this book: “Barron writes like Hemmingway (sic) might have if he weren’t so boring.” He has a good point – Barron writes lush, evocative prose – for instance the phrase: The deepest cavern in the world is the human heart. – and is not afraid of creating portraits with words. I especially liked the drug-addled trip down the Yukon Don took in a rubber Zodiac in 1980. While it can seem a bit dense, especially if one is trying to read whilst sleepy, it is also very readable. I sometimes had to read something more than once – often because I was trying to skim through it as quickly as I normally read – but it was more because of the need to really revel in the beauty of the words than because it was hard to understand.
Let the dark blind you on the inside, Don. There are frightful things. Don has severe memory problems, and has tended to forget many of the most traumatic events of his life – as well as more prosaic things. I have similar problems and know how difficult it can make life. Don, once fluent enough in Spanish to have written in his journal in that language, has completely forgotten it – likely as a result of the events in the first chapter, events that took place in 1958 in Mexico City, seven years after he married Michelle. Most of the book, however, took place between “now,” when Don is in his 80s, and 1980, weaving the action back and forth between the present and the past. We eventually learn why Don has these troubles with his memory – and it’s creepy, just like so much else in here...
They Who Wait love you...: the whisper of a dying man. There are some seriously creepy moments in this book, which built slowly through the book, gradually increasing in tension; but I also loved the wry humor that went throughout the book. When Don was in Mexico looking for Melissa and sent to two mysterious, retired policemen named Ramirez and Kinder, and the two were described (which I won’t tell you about ‘cause that would be a spoiler), I laughed like crazy. Ramirez was also the first to reference Old Leech and an ancient Celtic tribe that worshiped him. I loved the character development as well, which tends to give us just enough information to form an opinion of the person and their character without it becoming overwhelming.
One thing that puzzled me was the frequent usage of British-English language – bloody, telly, old chap, jolly good, etc. – in a book that is set in Washington state and revolves around Americans. While it is true that there are those of us who affect Britishisms, due to one thing or another (overabundance of Britcoms in my wasted youth, for one thing), it’s not common here.
I was curious as to how they would eventually show a croning. In the traditions I follow, a croning is usually when a woman moves into menopause – transitioning from Mother to Crone in her lifecycle. I say “usually” because there are some women who move straight from Maiden to Crone, if they decide they don’t want to become a Mother, for instance, or if health circumstances occur, such as an early hysterectomy. The hints given early in the book seem to point to a much darker version of this being exemplified in this story. However, the ritual is never shown in any detail – just hints and winks. I found that to be much more satisfying, truth to tell – you could create the thing in your own head, which is generally scarier than anything a writer can explicitly state.
The text itself played tricks on my eyes – whenever I would defocus my eyes I would see pentagrams and flames and spikey-looking things. And this would happen a lot, since a) I was forced to read the book on my computer and b) I was often forced to re-read a passage more than once. It’s not that the book was necessarily hard, it was just dense and I really needed to focus, which brings me back to a) and the fact that incoming email or random thoughts of things I wanted to Google kept interrupting me. I wish I had received the proper Kindle file from NetGalley. Fortunately my computer decided it didn’t like the network connection and the WiFi wouldn’t work, so when it came time for me to try again to read the book (after taking a couple days to read some other books), I was able to focus without that distraction.
This is perhaps the point that it would be appropriate to complain about that. Generally once I see the file name on my Kindle list, I “accept” the title from NetGalley. Since it is difficult for me to remember to go back and post reviews on Amazon, I like to wait until close to or soon after the book release to read and review it, so I hadn’t actually opened the file on my Kindle until I sat down to read the story. As I read the first chapter, I was quite confused. “I thought this was horror, not epic fantasy?” I queried to myself. Finally I went to the book’s cover and saw that, while the file name from the menu at the top of the screen said The Croning, same as it did on the main list of titles, the text of the book itself was Scourge of the Betrayer. Probably not as different as it may seem, especially with the beginning of The Croning retelling Rumplestiltskin, but still – not what I expected. Fortunately I had later downloaded the file to my desktop, Adobe Digital, and got the correct one that time. Still, I’m two for two on bad NetGalley files this weekend! And speaking of things that irritated me ….
At one point Kurt is bitten by a rat while sleepwalking, at which point he is said to need “X-rays, tetanus and rabies shots.” This is spreading the misunderstanding that rats can carry rabies, which is untrue. Rats are small and have a very swift reaction to things – in the event of being bitten by a rabid creature, rats are most likely to be killed outright. If they were to survive, somehow, then the fast spread of the disease through their system would kill them too rapidly for them to become infectious. Additionally, rabies is spread through saliva being injected into a bit, and rats – due to the structure of their mouth – deliver a “dry” bite; there is no saliva present in a rat bite, so even in the extremely unlikely scenario where a rat would survive a rabid-animal attack, and live long enough with the disease to become infectious, the chance of a bite causing rabies is very remote. That was your public health information for the day, you’re welcome! ☺
However, overall this was a wonderful horror novel – creepy, spooky, atmospheric – psychological rather than gore, which is what I prefer. Nothing wrong with a gorefest, but I don’t find them particularly scary or spooky, whilst a psychological horror book will tend to leave me sleeping with the lights on. Highly recommended.
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