Friday, September 7, 2012

THE CRONING by Laird Barron

Elizabeth Pepper and John Wilcock wrote the following about Granada, Spain, in their nonfiction tour de force titled MAGICAL & MYSTICAL SITES: EUROPE and the BRITISH ISLES (published in 1977 by Harper & Row): “The area of Sacro Monte. . . . It was in a cavern here, carefully sealed with great blocks of stone and guarded by a solitary pillar, that a bizarre discovery was made. A dozen skeletons, dating back to Neolithic times, were found sitting in a circle around the skeleton of a woman wearing the remains of a leather tunic on which were incised complex geometric patterns. Also in the cave archeologists discovered such signs of ritual magic as amulets and inscribed clay discs of the types usually identified with sun worship. The floor was covered with beads and seeds of the opium poppy, which was known in earliest times as nepenthe, a narcotic.

Anthony Roberts in his GIANTS in the EARTH theorizes that the woman must have been an adept and spiritual guide who led the initiates into an astral state of contemplation. ‘The people who made this magic trip,’ he says, ‘had never returned from its magical revelations, and this was quite possibly by choice.’”

Take heart, readers of dark fiction, for someone has returned (bringing with him the Children of Old Leech), and he has written a novel about such mysteries -- written fiction, mind you, because to do otherwise, to speak the truth, might invoke a horror upon us mortals more terrible than that which befalls our hapless protagonist, Donald Miller, in Laird Barron’s stunning debut novel THE CRONING.

Donald Miller, a geologist and academic, worships his beautiful and enigmatic wife, Michelle, an anthropologist with strong ties to mysterious moguls around the globe. But not all is well with the world for Donald, as he would have it, as his wife has a habit of suddenly taking off unannounced to explore this-or-that anthropological dig while in the company of one or more of her male colleagues -- often staying gone for weeks at a time. But Donald is a good husband and does not complain overmuch or ask too many questions, until one morning in Mexico City, while both are enjoying a spring vacation together, Michelle receives a phone call in their hotel room from a colleague who informs her of a dig nearby and would she care to join him for a few days. Michelle tells Don she’ll only be gone for a short while, then plants a kiss on him and takes off.

Don has misgivings, however, and sets out in search of Michelle, whom he has begun to suspect of doing more than digging in dirt with her colleagues. When Michelle stays gone without a word for more than two days Don begins to worry that something terrible has happened to her, and searches for her in dead earnest.

Something terrible is indeed happening, but Don is wrong about to whom it is happening.

THE CRONING is highly recommended reading for anyone who enjoys conjugated light and dark, and all those squirming little crevices in between.


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