Laird Barron writes weird.
Barron is a good writer, but the stories contained in his collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, are sometimes hard to figure. You’ll need a dictionary, good map skills, and a working knowledge of mythology, world religions, philosophy, horror fiction, and crime pulps to make heads or tails of these tales.
Don’t get me wrong; just because Barron’s style is strange doesn’t mean his fiction isn’t enjoyable. The stories in The Imago Sequence are rich with interesting characters and concepts, and practically drip with atmosphere.
Barron is a skilled writer and you can see his toil on every page. He blends Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft, in ways both good and bad. Tough guys stumble through the underworld of crime and the Old West against a backdrop of ancient horrors, cosmic interference, and unreliable narrators. At its best, Barron’s gritty prose conjures Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, gut-punching like a trench-coated henchman in an old black-and-white film. Check out these savory one-liners:
“Somebody slapped a bottle of whiskey in my hand and lost the cork…I tumbled off the wagon and got crushed under its wheels.”
“If the best revenge is living well, second best has to be watching your enemy shrivel like a worm on the end of a hook.”
“Underdog and Popeye couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag until they’d had their fix.”
“Karma, brothers and sisters, has a mouth as big as the world.”
Occasionally Barron’s work is undone by his word choice. Just because you’ve got a big vocabulary is no reason to use phrases like, “great chthonian depths,” “uxoricidal brute,” or “compensation for your temerity.”
The title story is the best in the collection. “The Imago Sequence” follows the pursuit of an ultra-rare trio of photographs that drive viewers insane and/or reveal the secrets of existence, perhaps even the very face of God Hisownself. The crime noir vibe builds to a climax that’s equal parts Thomas Harris’s Hannibal and John Carpenter’s The Thing, imbued with meaty philosophical musings:
“Enlightenment isn’t necessarily a clean process. Enlightenment can be filthy, degenerate, dangerous. Enlightenment is its own reward, its own punishment. You begin to see so much more. And so much more sees you.”
Barron’s reoccurring themes include religion, philosophy, and the meaning of existence, all of which are rendered masterfully in “Shiva, Open Your Eye.”
“Men are afraid of the devil, but there is no devil , just me and I do as I am bid. It is God that should turn their bowels to soup. Whatever God is, He, or It, created us for amusement. It’s too obvious. Just as He created the prehistoric sharks, the dinosaurs , and the humble mechanism that is a crocodile. And Venus fly traps, and black widow spiders, and human beings. Just as He created a world where every organism survives by rending a weaker organism. Where procreation is an imperative, a leech’s anesthetic against agony and death and disease that accompany the sticky congress of mating. A sticky world, because God dwells in a dark and humid place. A world of appetite, for God is ever hungry.”
Damn, Laird! That’s the kind of writing that can “turn your bowels to soup!”