Wednesday, July 18, 2018

[Laird Barron] Swift to Chase

Swift to Chase is my favorite Barron collection. It has some weak stories, but I just absolutely love the interconnected narratives concerning the lives and afterlives of Alaskan teenagers. Cosmic slasher horror forever - literally. Time is a flat circle. Jessica Mace is a kick-ass character as well, and I'd love to see more stories about her. Jessica was assaulted by a serial killer, but fought back, shot it, and lived to tell the tale. This episode is a linchpin around which many of the stories revolve, or relate to, in some way.

So let's break this down!

I: Golden Age of Slashing

Screaming Elk, MT -- The opening of the collection is, unfortunately, one of the weaker ones... It's a good introduction to Jessica Mace as a character, but the story itself is a so-so report of her encounter with a haunted traveling circus.

LD50 -- Now this is a good one. The characterizations are great. Gritty and raw. The story and its resolution might not be a groundbreaking idea, but it's good enough and it's only a background for Jessica anyways.

Termination Dust -- A disjointed account beginning with Jessica's encounter with the Eagle Talon Ripper, with some more stuff thrown into it. I think this story really starts to shine when you return to it after finishing the whole collection.

Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees -- My favorite Barron story. He does a great job creating a unique voice for the narrator - cheerleader and alpha female Julie V - without it becoming a parody. Then there is high school weirdo / genius / fixer figure Steely J (one of his many "incarnations" throughout the collection). Barron weaves urban legends, Mean Girls, pop culture into a single strain, leading to a most horrific climax... I absolutely love this story.

II: Swift to Chase

Ardor -- This story picks up the Alaska themes, but otherwise I feel it's a bit underwhelming and uninspired. I usually skip it during my Swift to Chase rereads...

the worms crawl in, -- This one is quite a mess! But the mess has certain hypnotic qualities, as the paranoid ramblings and stream of consciousness quickly blow this tale of domestic violence into cosmic proportions - only to collapse back into the mundane?

(Little Miss) Queen of Darkness -- Back to the horrific lives of the Alaskan teenagers of Eagle Talon! We revisit those fateful nights, and see the aftermath, or one of the aftermaths... The account is once again radically divergent from all the others: maybe it's an unreliable narrator, or perhaps what we read is the description of how it all went down in one of the personal pocket hells.

Ears Prick Up -- Given the collection's overall coherence, this story is kind of a weird choice... A piece told form the point of view of a genetically/robotically enhanced combat dog, set in a pseudo-Roman futuristic science fantasy world. At the same time, the title of the whole collection comes from it ("My kind is swift to chase, swift to battle"). This story loosely fits into Barron's pulp / gonzo line of output, it also lines up along stories like "Vastation". And it is a great story in its own right, with the stream of dog-consciousness just driving it forward.

III: Tomahawk

Black Dog -- Barron's stories often have a romantic / existentialist (?) streak. They are about outsiders, damaged people, individuals who don't necessarily fit into society. "Black Dog" is about two of these people going on a date and sort of just clicking? It might sound lame, but actually this is a great short story, almost purely in dialog form, with an eerie horror undertone.

Slave Arm -- "...and begin, again," Barron writes, and once again recounts the story of a party turning into a slasher massacre. I love the enumeration he provides: a 100+ names of everybody who's here: "Your friends are here. Your enemies are here. Everybody you’ve ever slept with is here." After the massacre comes the lengthy period of DEALING with the trauma. Survivor's guilt. Flashbacks. A very strong story, especially in combination with the others in the collection.

Frontier Death Song -- Barron's take on the Wild Hunt motif. Of course, filtered through Alaska, horror and 1980's rock radio. It is a good story, although, weirdly, I don't enjoy the link with the folklore motif much.

Tomahawk Park Survivors Raffle -- And finally, one more long account of the various horrific events that befell the Alaskan teenagers. I absolutely LOVE this story. It's such a mad ride, and a perfect final for the collection. Of course, given what we've already learnt, this is just one of the possible outcomes. This story is permeated with the fallout of our favorite Barronian cosmic horror conspiracies, leaning towards slasher / pulp. Clandestine experiments, secret government organizations, Planet X... I get a buzz from reading and re-reading it.

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