Friday, December 28, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: "More Dark"

"More Dark" by Laird Barron (The Revelator 137.1)

When publishing a special Lovecraft-themed issue, a periodical can solicit the work of no better fiction writer than Laird Barron.  "More Dark" shines a sinister light on a long-lauded but notoriously reclusive weird-tale scribe from Michigan dubbed Tom L (an allusion that dedicated readers of the horror genre should easily catch).  When the enigmatic writer--who is known for spouting "antinatalist propaganda"--finally decides to give a public reading of his work, he reveals himself to be a cult figure in the worst sense of the term.  The man has an eldritch agenda, and (decked out in "a heavy robe of crimson silk") he makes the most ominous entrance onto a scene since the Red Death crashed Prince Prospero's private party.

Barron's familiar skills as a storyteller are on full display here, starting with a sardonic (if suicidal) protagonist whose narration is littered with pearls of acerbic wit.  The author also shows his knack for turning everyday reality suddenly uncanny:
The train rattled into a tunnel of darkness.  By the faint plastic glow of the interior lights I had a rush of vertigo that tricked my body into believing the passenger car no longer moved laterally, but had shifted to the vertical plane and was descending at tremendous velocity, an express elevator to the pits.  Streaks of red flickered against the windows.  The kid with the earphones [a stranger sitting across from the narrator] glanced at me.  His earphones resembled the curved horns of a ram.  His eyes reflected the void.  He smiled.  His smile was the void.
"More Dark" is a satirical tour de force, and a large part of the fun here comes from Barron's various thinly-veiled allusions (e.g., HOCUS magazine; a "British hack" named Mark S. whose book The White Paws "moved thirty-six copies at the British Fantasy Convention when everybody got drunk and thought they were signing up for a charity drive").  But ultimately one does not need to be hip to the in-jokes in order to be entertained.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is Barron's ability to balance comedy and cosmic terror.  By the time the tale climaxes, the scoffing narrator is forced to consider that Tom L. is not a deluded fool in weird drag but possibly an "evil messiah sent by the dark gods to spread a message of disharmony and dread."  And when the tale finishes with a succinct yet resounding clincher, the reader has no choice but to recognize that weird fiction doesn't get any darker than this.

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