Beware the Cults of Old Leech!
It's been said before in almost every review that I've encountered on Laird Barron's The Croning, but I'll have to just repeat it here to have it on the record: this is one of the best debut novels I've ever read.
It's not just a terrific debut, it's a frightening masterpiece of a novel. Barron's longish short fiction set the bar exceedingly high, but he didn't waste any time vaulting those expectations with this piece.
Barron's prose style is complex and filled with haunting imagery. His locales, from the Olympic Mountains to the Mexican slums, are exotic and vivid; his characterization is nuanced, particularly his depiction of Don Miller, our protagonist that always seems a step behind the story that is chasing him from the shadows.
It's a tale of madness, dementia, love, generational obsessions, cosmic evil and power. It features rifts in time and space, and it shakes the reader's foundation on the possibilities of things that lurk in shadow, those limbless, hungry children whose chief pastime is infanticide.
I finished the novel some time ago, and yet it still bounces around in my head. I marked some passages in my Kindle (the embedded narrative Kurt tells on The Witch is brilliant, as is the retelling of the opening fairy tale), and I've returned to them a time or two over the last month.
This novel, complete with its wholly satisfying conclusion (so sad! so very, very sad!), instantly marks itself as a classic in the horror field. Atmospheric and damned scary, this book delves into the heart of madness to underline its central point:
There are frightful things.
Indeed there are! Beware the cults of Old Leech, and the servitors that furnish his sustenance!