After reading The Croning over a year ago, I decided I would give Laird Barron another try once his new collection of short stories came out. Finally, I have gotten around to picking up The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All, which contains nine short stories, all of which are pretty terrifying. I am fairly certain that if it was all just one continuous novel, I probably would not have made it all of the way thorough.
Genre, Themes, History: While each of these horror stories is completely different, with their own setting and characters and plot, there are themes that run through many of them, if not all of them. Almost every story involves someone, or an entire group of people, getting involved in something that they know nothing about, but it ultimately results in their undoing, or the undoing of someone close to them. In The Redfield Girls, death and tragedy seem to occur as the result of some "innocent" contact with a Ouija board. And in Jaws of Saturn, a man fights for his girlfriend against a hypnotist who is much more than he appears to be, only to possibly lose himself in the process. Almost every story also includes some sort of human sacrifice, most of which are unwilling. These aren't the usual ghost stories or simple murder mysteries that turn out to have nothing to do with the supernatural. In every story there is something incredibly evil and incredibly powerful running the show, whether the characters wish to acknowledge it or not. And many times, even those that willingly follow along aren't spared the worst of it. In many ways the stories read like the ones you'd here sitting around the campfire, especially since many of them take place out in the woods, far from civilization. Suffice it so say, none of them are for the faint at heart.
My Verdict: Although I usually avoid short story collections, I did like The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All much more than I did The Croning. Maybe it was the variety provided by the different stories, but despite the gore and death and destruction, I was eager to see how each story ended, though it was a guarantee it wouldn't be a happy ending, and I was eager to see what the next story would bring to the table. I did feel that some of the stories were wrapped up a little too neatly and/or quickly, such as Blackwood's Baby and The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven, but even so, they are stories worth checking out.
Must Read: My personal favorite in the collection was The Siphon. It was complicated and intriguing enough that it was fun to try to keep up with, but not so much so that you want to skip it and move on to the next story.
Okay to Miss: I didn't care much for Vastation, which seemed like less of an actual story and more of a history of some nonhuman entity that has been around about as long as the universe itself.
Recommended Reading: If you enjoy this collection of Baird's short stories, then I recommend The Croning. Also, if the mystery element of the stories is more appealing to you than maybe the horror and the presence of evil, then I recommend Marisha Pessl's Night Film, which is a murder investigation, but with some incredibly dark and sinister elements behind it.