Occultation – by Laird Barron

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews of fiction, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of the collection entitled ‘Occultation’ by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books 2010).

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

The Forest

“The smell reminded him of hip waders, muddy clay banks and gnats in their biting millions among the reeds.”

It is as if we are here to gather, by the sometimes hard-reached tenacity of reading mature fiction, the occult motes – from Nodes and Nadines – yes, to gather the Snail Cone truths  that cohere from the backhead masks of this memorable story’s words themselves: the cosmic cancer of retrieval through memory or photographs or re-modelling, through a highly satisfying texture of prose and dialogue alchemically made to breathe real situations and filmic dramatis personae in exotic heat that wavers for me from the work of Mike O’Driscoll towards Graham Greene or Malcolm Lowry or Ian McEwan laced with Lovecraft or Henry S Whitehead….perhaps ending up with a Barronial style I have yet to fully explore and nail…. (26 Nov 10)

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Occultation

“– I think you might have an enlarged prostate.”

Almost can be seen as a continuation of the previous story (soaking up more styles), now by co-whoring rather than cohering, benchmarked by a psycho-delia-cooked Henry S Whitehead reading his own lips, with continentally punctuated dialogue as a couple in a Barton Fink room watch an <again dangerous visions ‘title’ is a black blob> grow inferentially into further cosmic cancers between the stars, except the claustrophobic ending is probably the most frightening I have recently met.  Only beds ride on the back of snail cones, not universes, but that may be irrelevant to the story.  A story I loved. (26 Nov 10 – three hours later)

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The Lagerstätte

“The crimson seam dried black on the bedroom wall.”

A substantial story of a being haunted by a survivor’s guilt regarding two late loved ones, husband and son.  I am incredibly impressed by the traction of text that this book generally so far presents, with horror for horror’s sake, a bit like all our lives … yet with a meaningful undercurrent that horror thus transcended into an art form of character/plot machination makes one’s own life another satisfying, if painful, traction beyond the trivial it would otherwise be. That’s the only way I can explain it. However, there is almost a glut of horror images here, albeit horror images quite beyond the run-of-the-mill gore, skirting poignancy that has not quite yet brought tears to my eyes. Cf: the ‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’ of the two previous stories respectively and here the lagerstätte… (26 Nov 10 – another 3 hours later)

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MYSTERIUM  TREMENDUM

1 & 2

“I sometimes wondered if it’d been accidental or closer to the protagonist’s opt-out in that famous little novel by Graham Greene.”

So far a more ‘compos mentis’ story than the previous three, one about two modern couples as a foursome of friends  – one of whom (the narrator) is dreamy while also naturally searching (as we do) the net as part of life’s own plot . They are presumably preparing to use their chance discovery in a shop of ‘The Black Guide’ book (aka ‘Moderor de Caliginis’ 1909) for an already planned trip…  [I idly speculate: a Strantzaic trip as in ‘Cold To the Touch’? – but my sleepiness intervenes as it does with the Narrator.] (26 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

———————

3 & 4

“Every channel  was full of snow and shadow, except for the ones with the black bar saying NO SIGNAL.”

Fulsome sexual-laddish characterisation by protagonism and dialogue; premonitions of their trip-to-come, via the gavinostic Guide, possibly story-ripe with dolmens and occultation; eventually the  past backdropped and projected by the dialogue’s cleverly spawning the ghosts of people previously spoken of  … and protagonists as they may become one day, given the foresight that fiction, ‘in media res’, cannot fully achieve, except possibly in the head of the narrator or reader, if not officially in that of the author himself. (27 Nov 10) 

5, 6 & 7

“A city boy was always a stranger…”

I continue travelling story-pleasingly with the lads as they trace ley-line diagrams of outdoors plot-action along with our narrator’s more inward, arcane diagrams from the fatefully-owned Guide – and I wonder if the erstwhile <‘external os’ and ‘worm-cored rod’  […] the lagerstätte>  are here soon to fuse as a boner in unending circle? (27 Nov 10 – two hours later)

8, 9 & 10

“He recoiled like a worm zapped by an electrode.”

Powerful stuff that is blair-witching even me out.  Like its style. The brash encounters with gut fights, the spunky, spooky elements. The tooth wrenching out, the nose bone being put back into joint, nearly shooting oneself in  the foot. The nether-pit that seems somehow to be waiting for me to fall beneath the words into it, like the one old humpin’ Tom fell into before he became a ghost?  The ‘animal’ shapes that ‘drain’ away into that pit? Mighty stuff. No spoilers. Only wrenchers.

“From there the anonymous author claimed it to be an hour’s hike to the dolmen.” (27 Nov 10 – another two hours later)

11, 12, 13, 14 & 15

“‘This is weird,’ said Victor. ‘You guys think this is weird?'”

Journey’s end. But my ‘vanilla life’ does perhaps need to release its deadbolt and let the weirdnesses in, ever since nearly being enticed as a small child by an oldish person (or oldish to me, then) into a shrimp-hut on the quagmirish backwaters where I lived in the Fifties.

But that gives no clue to the ending of the happenings of this story. Its bottomless pits where lurk McMahonites and Strantzals and Cardinals and Gavinals and Unsworths and Gaffries and Duffies and Barronial Lairds: their faces in the the pit, enticing me towards darknesses I cannot credit.  Or, rather, me enticing them back out, but to what?

But that gives no clue as to the ending of the happenings in this story. Or the way its striking prose ignites its denizens and their musical ‘dying fall’, their symphonic coda’s endgame-expedition of lads-into-men. You will need to read it for that. Just be persuaded by an older person who has read it. Even if he hasn’t lived it for himself … yet.

[Writing a real-time review is a special reading-journey on the internet – a journey that takes place within a single reading mind, beset by all the foibles of the moment.  The question is: does this affect the journey itself, i.e knowing one is publicly describing that journey as it happens?] (27 Nov 10 – another hour’s hike later)

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Catch Hell

“…priests walking with their heads on backwards…”

Much of Barron is generously sown with wonderful sentences that make you think that’s neat but then it expands in the mind and means even more. Also there is strong sense of ‘genius loci’ as there is in this story – a hybrid European /American lodge in America with statues, folklore-rich, run-ins with ruins, a place of a weekend-away feel where a child-haunted couple visit (difficult to summarise their abrasive relationship and past, their Satanic algorithms that develop with the plot exponentially) – a ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Paul Finch (eg ‘The Baleful Dead’) and Reggie Oliver (eg ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’) catch-hell-all, with nightmarish-mutant Romance Fiction elements…. “I’ve never seen so many weathervanes in one place” – “occasionally he meets up with a lost hiker” – “What the fuck do you know about academia, Cock-ring?” – “It wasn’t the end though. There’s no end to hell.” (28 Nov 10)

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Strappado

“A password!”

This is a story where the author’s skills truly come together. Literary prose style to die for. Horrors to work out.  Another ‘dying fall’.  Kenshi and Swayne’s sexual reunion in an Indian tourist resort. Characters not to die for exactly, but to keep in abeyance in case you need them in a lucid dream.   And a ‘dangerous’ art installation or happening, that the protagonists foolhardily approach with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. I just wonder which colour-of-door reader I am of this whole book as it leads me further along its audit trail of leitmotifs….? (28 Nov 10 – two hours later)

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The Broadsword

1 – 7

“…an old school radical who’d done too much Purple Haze in the ’60s…”

The Broadsword Hotel – a sort of ‘House of Leaves’ where Pershing lives with bugged paranoia and other buggage from his life – and the prose flows so sweetly (is it because I’ve been drinking wine this evening?) and there is Updike here, too, and Beat poets and more.  I think Barron is either the Nadal or Federer of Weird Literature. And I’m not sure which of these he is nor am I sure which writer is the other one? (28 Nov 10 – another 4 hours later)

8 – 16

“…spent months hiking the ass end of nowhere with a compass and an entrenchment spade.”

Pershing exchanges his House of Leaves for a House of Stars, amid his tangible-in-the form-of-his-guilt guilt as a previous trip’s dead friend speaks through vents — and his own age generation of once fearing ‘A bombs’ and green men from Mars – the darknesses or spaces between the strantzaic suns and the emotions as transparencies or palimpsests and a reprise of the Mysterium Tremendum trip as a trip indeed. They had trips in the 60s they never came back from, I guess. Maybe, I did. Maybe, I didn’t.  The choice of red or blue door notwithstanding. (28 Nov 10 – another 2 hours later)

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–30–

“In the animal kingdom, paranoia equalled sanity.”

This is essential Barron, I guess. Substantial and very effective, a remote research station where, alone, another exponentially abrasive couple seek more from fleshy interstices than from corners of any loving affection, all mingled with lucid dreaming (I hope or fear this whole book is a lucid dream or at least a mutant Thing movie that will not take my eyes out one  by one but only if I am willing to believe in it or is that disbelieve in it?) with afForestation, coyotes, weird insects in potentially cosmic swarms, a lagerstätte os as trip-discovered horn, occultation…

He covered his good eye…” (29 Nov 10)

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Six Six Six

Despite its title, I had a confident feeling this would be a gentlin’-out, a coda to this enormously impressive weird symphony of a book – and in many ways this haunted house story about a young couple, a house inherited after the husband’s father’s death, could easily have been a fulfilment, a rounding-out, a gestalt-confirmation. But instead I’m left shaking.  To the flickering of a Muybridge and a Reichian drumming.  It’s as if my lantern will be pushed out as a catharsis of impulsive ricochet between author and reader. To the sudden sound of a helicopter crashing…

[I shall now read for the first time Michael Shea’s introduction in the book, but I will not be back here again to say anything more.] (29 Nov 10 – two hours later)

 

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Occultation – by Laird Barron

  1. Pingback: DF LEWIS REAL-TIME REVIEWS | My Last Balcony

  2. Johan Herrenberg

    It’s interesting to see how you read. I’m going through ‘The Imago Sequence’ very slowly. The stories generally pack quite a punch, and I can take this visceral kind of horror only in small doses. I read Barron’s ‘Strappado’ online today – it confirmed my impression he is one of the strongest talents on the scene.

  3. Thanks, Johan. You’re right.

    Having now dwelled on it a few hours, I certainly hope I’ve done proper justice above to the book.

    I went to see my elderly Mother today. A helicopter seemed to buzz the building where she lives. At one point I really thought it was crashing! Honestly. Even my mother – hard of hearing – said it sounded ‘a bit ropy’.

  4. The immediately following book that I have just RTRed (THE SATYR by Stephen J Clark) seems appropriately contiguous within my RTRing with this one, i.e. its occultation and the one-eyed boy. “He covered his good eye…” Occlusion by something far too deep and knowing to be called opaque. Who am eye?

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  6. Pingback: DF Lewis's Real-Time Reviews

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