I need to sit and hold this story in my mind for awhile. There are so many layers, so many perilous dimensions to Laird Barron’s The Croning, that if I’m not careful, I may forget how I got here, and never find my way back from the black abyss.
The lives of Don Miller and his wife Michelle Mock, two worldly and (in Michelle’s case) acclaimed academics, are ironbound by two constants: Their decades-spanning love affair, and the Mock family’s centuries-long legacy of servitude to something ancient and infernal.
The increasingly nyctophobic Don has been blissfully (or, to be more accurate, determinedly) oblivious to the latter for the entire span of his marriage to the enigmatic (and often frightening) Michelle. But as the couple enters their golden years, the voids within Don’s own memory begin to yawn closer, threatening to belch forth events of the past that he’s desperately buried deep in his subconscious. Events that, were he to remember them, would annihilate his mind.
As other reviewers have already discussed, like many other stories by Laird Barron, this one delves deep into the bottomless realms of cosmic horror. But distinct from many of that genre’s other time-honored greats, Barron dares to weave seemingly incongruous elements into and throughout the horrifying journey, notably the Grimm’s fairytale “Rumpelstiltskin.”
For me personally, the lifeblood of any great story is character. Don Miller delivers all the confusion, devotion, and desperate denial at war within the aging mind of a man who has lied to himself for decades—at first out of desperate love; but then, so gradually as to elude his own awareness, out of a slowly unfurling dread; and finally, after it has already been far too late for far too long, shear, bleach-white terror.
A man whose love, in the end, proves merciless.