Man with No Name

April 7, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

nanashiMan with No Name by Laird Barron

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Did I really say just a few days ago that Barron’s style felt unnatural and stilted? What was wrong with me? Was I having a bad day, or was I just reluctant to get into the story? Maybe I was so hung up on the comparisons to Ligotti I’ve read, I was expecting the narrative to be that obtuse. Regardless, I found Man with No Name to flow so naturally that it didn’t even feel like I was reading.

The story is set in Japan, and focuses on a group of gangsters who are settling a beef they have with a retired wrestler. Nanami, the titular man with no name, is one of those gangsters, and the story is told from his perspective. At first, the story seems as if it will be an unassuming one, since the first half of the story is just about the gangsters and the wrestler. We see them pick him up, take him someplace, and along the way they talk about different things. The wrestler and Nanashi form a minor bond, and there’s a small moment that hints at the weirdness that’s ahead, but it’s innocuous enough that it could just be a thematic moment. Knowing the author’s repertoire, though, the reader should recognize it for what it portends, and pick up on the atmosphere. Because once the story enters the second half, weirdness abounds.

Barron does an exceptional job starting this story. He sets up the tone, characters, setting, atmosphere, and plot in just a matter of pages, and then draws the story out with such precision that it makes the whole thing look effortless. It was so easy to identify with his characters, as protagonists and antagonists, and I wish I could tell you why. I’ve read enough books where the characterization is flat and uninspired, and so many where the characters feel realized, that I wish I could break down what it takes to make a character vivid like this.

One of my biggest issues with weird fiction is that it sometimes gets so complicated and involved that I have a hard time following it, and I don’t get a good sense of whether the story makes any sense. Dreams feature prominently in the first half of the story, and when things get wild in the second half, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a dream or real events. Plus, with horror fiction in general, it’s important to understand the rules of the supernatural events, as it helps make the conclusion make more sense. I don’t think Barron established the rules well enough for me to accept how he concluded the story, but I’ll also admit that my inexperience with weird fiction could be working against me here.

I read the ebook edition of this novella, and it included a bonus story titled “Blood & Stardust”. It’s Barron’s take on a Frankenstein story, featuring a female character in the Igor role. The worst thing about it is I kept picturing Sheegor from Psychonauts as the narrator, but I can’t really blame the author for that. The story is touching, while also being disturbing. That’s not an easy feat.

I didn’t like Man with No Name as much as I did X’s for Eyes, but not so much that I wouldn’t explore more of Barron’s work. His style and voice are refreshing, and he definitely has the skills to bring a good story to the page. If nothing else, this novella is worth it to read the first half to see just how well Barron can tell a tale.

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