The novel “The Croning” by Laird Barron was published for the first time in 2012.
Don Miller is a geologist who sometimes travels to various countries along with his wife, anthropologist Michelle Mock. During one of these trips, Don has reason to believe that Michelle ha disappeared but trying to find her almost gets killed. He survives but remembers very little of his ordeal.
Don and Michelle’s life seems overall normal and yet some events are weird to say the least. In his old age, Don tries to put together the pieces of a strange puzzle but meddling with certain things can be dangerous and death is only one of the possible consequences but not necessarily the worst.
“The Croning” begins with a fairy tale that contains familiar elements but is told with colorful tones that are unsuitable for children. It’s a prologue that seems to be unconnected with the story of the protagonist Don Miller and his family but reading this novel you have to keep in mind the various parts to understand its global sense.
Memory seems a problem for Don Miller, a geologist with a life that’s generally normal with very adventurous and even dangerous moments. The second chapter tells what was supposed to be a vacation for him in Mexico City in 1958 that almost turned into a tragedy.
The plot embraces decades of life for Don Miller and his family in a non-linear way but goes back and forth. Here, in my opinion, is the main problem of the novel: after a very strong start, until more or less halfway the story tells mostly normal events at a rather slow pace.
Laird Barron offers us a contrast between Don Miller’s sometimes dull life as he’s a normal person with a weak memory and what happens when he tries to reconstruct the events he didn’t remember. Personally I found the part about the protagonist’s normality too long and I think it would’ve been effective even if it was a bit shorter.
Despite the beginning with the fairy tale, “The Croning” contains above all elements of cosmic horror for which it was compared to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Laird Barron adapts those elements to the history of the last few decades, mixing them with a bit of conspiracy linked to the presence of secret agents and political-economic elites.
The result is at risk of being a mix-up although in the end I think that Laird Barron managed to give it a good homogeneity with intriguing connections among the various elements. “The Croning” requires to invest some time to reach its second half, in which Don Miller starts discovering a kind of parallel reality where everything seems different from the way he saw it throughout his life.
Don Miller’s family story is the first that needs to be reviewed. The important characters, including someof Don’s acquaintances, start acquiring a depth far different compared to the first part of the novel. In some cases the depth goes hand in hand with darkness because some secrets area really disturbing.
Laird Barron wrote some short stories set in the same narrative universe and in 2014 the anthology “The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron” was published, which includes short stories from various authors, a tribute to this narrative universe. I haven’t read any of these stories so I can’t offer an opinion about them.
“The Croning” requires for the reader to have a bit of patience before starting seeing the most important developments in the plot with a pace acceleration and a remarkable intensity in the story, which sometimes becomes brutal. If you don’t think that this isn’t a problem and you like the lovecraftian horror genre with a bit of X-Files you’ll like this novel.