The most gripping novel I read in the last year was Laird Barron’s The Croning. I finished the book, and then started back into it again immediately. It caused me to develop, briefly, an actual anxiety about going down into my cellar. Nearly a year after starting into The Croning, I remain enamored with it.
It’s a short novel, and the arc of the story sprawls through the lives of geologist Donald Miller and his wife, the anthropologist Michelle Mock. Time is plastic in the book, which aptly fits the theme and overall story that’s being told. The darkness is visible, complex, and compares favorably with genre touchstones.
Whether The Croning will join the list of horror novels that survive and are re-read, from Dracula to The Haunting of Hill House, has to do with other things than literary quality, and they’re hard to control for. That said, I think it may actually be a great horror novel. It’s not perfect, but neither are The Case of Charles Dexter Ward or Rosemary’s Baby.
Something about the way the pieces of the book come together move it past judgment and into the land of works that can only be judged comparatively. These novels have by some acknowledgment, tacit or overt, succeeded. Sales alone don’t mean survival, and everything from reviews to critical opinions to finding long-term champions go into it. For myself, I can only say that I cannot imagine selling my copy of The Croning. As a librarian, I’m familiar (if not entirely comfortable) with the necessity of pruning book collections to keep them vibrant, but this book already feels like a part of me, in that way that any lasting favorite should.