Game hunters, a horror writer, hired gunmen, a runaway wife, schoolteachers, and a businessman are just a few of the characters that inhabit the tales of Laird Barron’s stories; Stories that have far from beautiful endings. The nine stories that make up 'The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All' are about wild instincts. Barron, an Alaskan native, has had more than his share of abnormal experiences in nature; it should come to no surprise that his stories take place in its wild, unknown territories. The darkness is more than anyone can understand and it compels Barron’s characters. No one is free, those with simple lives and those with shady pasts, all find themselves in the torments Barron sets forth in his stories.
Throughout his stories, characters from different places and time periods are led to the dark forest known as Blackwood in the wildest part of Washington. The devil, Old Bill, is said to live amongst its trees.
The short story 'Blackwood’s Baby,' starts the collection off in the devil’s woods. Luke Honey, a huntsman with little to say, finds himself in prestigious company at Black Ram Lodge. Luke is part of a group of elite handpicked huntsmen competing for the opportunity to kill a large stag known as Blackwood’s Baby the sire of the Devil, who assumed the form of a doe, and the elder Blackwood, a fur trader in the area.
The story picks up when Luke first catches a glimpse of what appears to be the beast:
The mist swirled heavy as soup and the fire had dwindled to coals when he woke. Branches crackled and a black shape, the girth of a bison or a full grown rhino, moved between the shadows. It stopped and twisted an incomprehensibly configured head to survey the camp.
Luke saw the beast again in a field. Men from his party shot at the stag “as it bolted through the trees and disappeared. It was far too massive and it moved in a strange, top-heavy manner.” The stag left behind a mess of dead and bloody dogs. Bullard, one of the men explains what happened: “It speared them on its horns. In all my years...it scooped up, blank-faced, from the carnage.”
The plot gets even more eerie as Scobie, the head stableman, learns that his nephew, Arlen, has disappeared into the woods soon after the incident with the stag. Luke discovers a statue when looking for the boy. “A statue canted leeward at the center of the groove--a tall, crumbling marble stack, ghastly white and stained black by moss and mold, a terrible horned man, or god. This was an idol to a dark and vile Other and it radiated a palpable aura of wickedness.” The statue sheds light on Luke’s dark past and his plans for Arlen’s future.
Barron’s wickedly, horrific prose, sends a creepy feeling to wither in your gut as you read his stories. Turning the page becomes a scary idea like the stories may somehow reach you from between the pages. His stories tend to move slowly into the realm of horror, offering a lot of backstory, perhaps too much backstory. It often takes several pages before you get a sense of where the plot is going. The unease lasts only until the last pages of each story, which seem to end with little of the horror seen throughout the middle of his stories.
Laird Barron’s cosmic horror will have you questioning your own role in the game between good and evil, and it will have you wondering whether that role has any significance. This book is worth reading if you like horror or even if you don’t. If you’ve ever had an uneasy feeling about the unknown, this book brings it back, leaving you fearful of the night.