On Tuesday night, I took part in WORD’s “From the Devil to Cosmic Horrors: A Night of Fears” reading. (WORD has some photos up on their Tumblr.) The headliners for the night — to speak of this in rock-show terms, which I almost always do — were Laird Barron and the reissued edition of Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider. The selections read ranged from original works to classics to an elegiac story about zombies dealing with a purposeless life after they’ve devoured the last human. I’d been excited to read Barron’s work ever since reading Adrian Van Young’s rave review of his new collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, and ended up buying his new collection; as for The Black Spider, I stand by my earlier comment that it’s the best religiously-fueled allegorical body horror you’re likely to read this year.
With the (possible) exception of The Black Spider, I found myself noticing some interesting thematic overlap among most of the works read over the course of the night. Now — there hadn’t been any kind of behind-the-scenes organization by the readers; for my part, aside from a loose guideline to do something more on the cosmic horror side of things, I was working pretty freely. And yet what really got me was how many of the stories, from the lightly comic to the horrifically despairing — took solitude and loneliness as their subjects. It isn’t being devoured by monsters, or losing our humanity, or the revolt of our bodies against us that gets us quite as much as the idea that we might be stranded; might be eternally alone. Is that a reflection of where we are today — or is it a kind of reassurance, that we can find some solace in the concepts that primally terrify us all?