Nine stories comprise the latest collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, by Laird Barron. His brand of cosmic horror depends largely on several media and movement and mythos, the least of which are Lovecraftian and '70's horror/crimesploitation/grindhouse and noir. The best of the bunch manage to combine all of the above. The least of the bunch, though, still stand on their own as worthies in this collection.
If you've read Barron's The Croning, then you're already familiar with his Old Leech mythos, and perhaps TBTTAUA would situate nicely beside your having read the novel. If you haven't read the novel but end up reading the collection, I suppose the reverse could hold true. Largely, Barron manages to populate his stories with broken characters--I'd even hazard to call them "beautiful losers" of the sort Bob Seger and Stephen King might appreciate and write about themselves--who, if they are male are of the rough-and-tumble sort. The kind who'd just as soon whip your ass as look at you straight. Proactive sorts who do nothing--NOTHING--but hasten their own demise. That's not a spoiler, mind. If you know anything about cosmic horror, you already know where I'm coming from, don't you? If you're new to that territory, then it's *still* not a spoiler. It's a warning. You're going to read train wrecks, son. Inexorable. Ineffable from your brainpain. There will be blood and hair and spit and teeth and viscera. However, if you're also looking for some protagonists of the female persuasion, then "The Redfield Girls" (creepy sisterhood of the traveling educators lake story) and "The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven" (lesbian werewolves, yo, and not nearly as sensational as it might sound) are holy-amazeballs short stories.
But to get you to inhabit even briefly the life of his characters, Barro has this knack for pulling you into their world. I come at his work first for the atmosphere. He is nothing if not a writer of place, and geography *is* madness, of a sort, in these tales of cosmic horror. It's tentacular stuff, I tell you. And I hasten to add that he has this knack for using dreams in Act 1 or Act 2 to lay the groundwork for the waking nightmares of the Act 3 mindfuggery he unleashes on the protags to somehow codify to entire story's logic.
It's kind of hard to go into great detail on short stories without spoiling them outright, and I think there tends to be more margin for what works/doesn't with individual pieces in a TOC as opposed to the four-course meals novels offer, but I digress. The dark horse story--the one I thought "meh" but ended up "frak yeah!" on--is "Hand of Glory." It shows greater brushstrokes of the aforementioned noir and could've been a late 60's horror script trying hard to grow into 70's clothes. Trust me.
As I'm a sucker for hunting stories, "Blackwood's Baby" and "The Men from Porlock" didn't disappoint. The first was more deal-with-the-Devil meets Hemingway on acid. The latter . . . I had to set it aside a few times to decompress from the suspense.
Only "The Siphon" and "Jaws of Saturn" (the lone original piece published in the TOC) didn't win me over or sneak up on me the way the other stories did, but, in the immortal words of Primus: The Can't All Be Zingers. Neither of them were clunkers, either. That said, as cinematic overall as his prose stylings, Barron ever gives me an impression of movies conjuring in my headspace. And I could see both stories as Carpenter-esque films. Maybe early to mid-nineties. Or better yet, the aughties in the case of "The Siphon." But that's just me.
And that's another thing to bear in mind if you're new coming to Barron's writing. The man knows just how close to edge to pull you into a scene. You know there's a Big Reveal(tm). There won't be a single cheap parlor trick. He is no charlatan of the written word; Barron will misdirect with a sound or a character's stray thought. He pulls away before the protags can summon the courage to look, but he's already tricked the imagination into gear. It's the good stuff, Maynard.
Now, the real odd ducks are "More Dark," a meta-commentary on horror and the horror scene with plenty of wink-winks and nudge-nudges to writers and editors in the field but that I could only appreciate from a distance. What I did get tickled hell outta me (see what I did there?).
But the outlier of the bunch stands in "Vastation," a kind of diary-of-a-madman meets quantum horror. Yes, quantum horror. "Hand of Glory" = 1. "Vastation" = 2. Then the rest of the stories.
This collection was worth the money I plunked down and the time I spent reading it. While I haven't read his other collections (yet), I've read The Croning and The Light Is the Darkness and short work here and there. The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All fires on all cylinders.