Savage and Beautiful: Laird Barron’s The Light Is the Darkness

Cover of The Light Is the DarknessI absolutely love Laird Barron‘s work, and have previously written on him. Recently I read The Light Is the Darkness and was completely blown away again.

Conrad Navarro is a trained fighter for the Pageant, a series of brutal events staged in secret for an elite group of rich creeps. Conrad is also searching for his sister, Imogene, who disappeared during her own search for the mysterious, and nefarious, Dr. Drake, whose unorthodox scientific experiments are believed by both siblings to have caused the death of their brother when they were children. The book is set in the weird version of a noir underground. Power plays pull Conrad back and forth between warring factions, and the characters spend most of their time entrenched within corruptive practices of one type or another. The weird infringes throughout, whether it is the odd set of physical attributes that Conrad seems to have been born with, or, in a more overt appearance, an otherworldly erotic close encounter with something in the other room.

Barron’s writing is sparse and minimalist when needed, both capturing the brutal feel of this character and his world, and then expanding just enough when needed to bring in a dark beauty for the descriptions. This work has some extremely beautiful dark prose that hits hard whether it describes a nightmarish landscape just the other side of this dimension

The moon shrieked below the threshold of human perception, reverberated in vast stygian chambers of rock and bone.

or the dream land someone like Conrad visits in his sleep

This bestial presence hunched until its crown of antlers scraped rock, and it chuckled and growled and reached for him, clutched him and drew him into the light.

or the beginning of one of the many, bloody and gruesome fights

The slow waltz in Hell began without music.

This book unfolds almost like a classic detective story, with Conrad continuing to search for his sister while being continually sidetracked by the competing factions in his world. However, his search for her, for answers, and for the man that may have ruined his life comes to a much more dramatic conclusion, as dark unimaginable forces begin to come into play, and Conrad himself begins to change.

If for some reason you have not yet read any of Barron’s work, you absolutely should stop whatever you are doing right now and go find some.

Book vs. Movie: Horns

People always say you should do the right thing. Well, sometimes there is no right thing. Then you just have to pick the sin you can live with.

Movie poster for HornsA few months ago I wrote a review of Joe Hill’s book, Horns, and after watching the movie decided to go back and make some comparisons. I definitely enjoyed the movie and it sticks fairly closely to the book. It also plants a pretty square focus on the sins that people are living with.

NOTE: A FEW SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOK AND MOVIE MAY BE PRESENT.

The movie version of Horns starts by going back a little before the blackout night that grants Ig his new horns, and while most of the encounters are pretty similar, there is something a little different about seeing them play out on the screen. Listening to people air their dirty laundry – some of whom are pretty proud of their poor decisions – creates an atmosphere of disgust that is almost depressing in some cases. The confessions by Ig’s parents and the waitress at the diner are especially disturbing. But, in addition to the horns’ side effect of unwanted confessions, the movie plays up Ig’s power of persuasion a bit more. At one point he uses it to get back at the media sharks, who have been following him around ever since he was accused of Merrin’s murder. I liked this change of emphasis. I think that it kind of helps, since Radcliffe plays Ig as a little more likeable than the character in the book – having something that he does that is less than honorable helps even this out a bit.

There were definitely some differences, and a few that did take a little of the magic and humor out of the story. For example, the tree house becomes a stable, real-world affair rather than this kind of secret gift that Ig and Merrin share. It’s still their hideout and special place, but it doesn’t have the otherworldly significance of the book. And, there is no donning of readily available clothes after Ig transforms, which cuts out the “devil in the blue dress” joke, which I thought was incredibly funny. But, there are also some changes that I really, really liked – the use of the snakes, for example. There is a pretty funny exchange between Ig and and Terry regarding his new snake-around-the-neck look, and an incredible snake-as-killer scene.

Daniel Radcliffe in Horns

This movie is long – it clocks at about two hours – but it’s not too long. It uses the time to create a different type of horror/dark fantasy experience. This is fitting, since Hill’s work is itself very different from much of the genre. The main meat of the story remains – the horror of Ig’s loss of control of almost everything in his life and the transformation that this loss wreaks upon him and those around him. If you haven’t watched this movie yet, you should – it’s well worth the time.