I'll admit that I'm a bit of a horror genre junkie, and I've written a lot about it over the years. From vampires to monsters to creepy gothic novels to some of the classics, I've talked about the spectrum. But the good news is that there are always more books to talk about, and so I've got some of my all-time favorites to share with you today, across a broad spectrum of the genre, from those that leave you uneasy to those that just might keep you up at night.
1. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. The film adaptation of this scared me so much as a kid, I think I slept with the lights on for a month. It was only in my twenties that I actually went back and read it in an attempt to finally put my fears to rest. It worked, sort of. It's still one of the scariest stories I've ever encountered, both raw and profane. The 11-year-old daughter of a movie actress in 1970's Washington, D.C. becomes possessed by an ancient demon, and it is left to her mother, an elderly exorcist, and a young priest who has lost his faith, to rescue Regan from a fate worse than death after all scientific explanations have been exhausted. This is the ultimate good vs. evil, not for the faint of heart.
2. American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. In this black satire of the materialistic eighties, a Wall Street yuppie can't get enough of anything, including murder. The book, which was also turned into a cult classic of a film, is a mad slasher of a tale, full of narcissism, greed and violence as educated and successful Patrick Bateman moves in the society of the young and trendy like a shark, hunting his next victim. Scariest perhaps for the paper-thin veneer of civility that covers Bateman's true murderous tendencies, this novel sends readers down the rabbit-hole into chaos and madness.
3. The Ruins, by Scott Smith. Two American couples, just out of college, enjoy a lazy beach holiday together in Mexico. On an impulse, they go off with newfound friends in search of one of their group--the young German who headed off for the archaeological dig in some remote Mayan ruins in pursuit of a girl. Then the searchers, as they move deeper into the jungle, begin to suspect that there is an "other" among them.
4. John Dies at the End, by David Wong. Part dark comedy, part Lovecraft-ian terror, this might be the story of two Midwestern friends who drink beer and think something horrific is going on in their small town. Or it could be aliens. Or it could be a drug-induced hallucinations. In any case, the narrator claims no responsibility. For those who like a little hilarity to break up their scares.
5. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This dystopian novel, often billed as science fiction, is the scary near-future tale of a world in which a totalitarian Christian theocracy has overthrown the United States government and the first order of business was to remove all women's rights. In this society, almost all women are forbidden to read. The story is presented from the point of view of a woman called Offred, one of a class of individuals kept as concubines ("handmaids") for reproductive purposes by the ruling class in an era of declining births due to sterility from pollution and sexually transmitted diseases. This is guaranteed to make even the most jaded reader uneasy.
6. The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Imagine vampirism as a virus, which infects millions of Americans. States secede and set up giant walls. The outside world cuts off the North American continent. What would human civilization look like after 100 years in a camp of survivors abandoned by the Army? This is a huge book at nearly 800 pages, but I promise that it is not a slow read by any means. I highly recommend this for fans of Walking Dead-like dystopian stories with a broad cast of characters. Bonus points, this is the first in a trilogy, with the third installment tentatively due out next year.
7. We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. This is often described as a psychological study of a novel, but I found it deeply unsettling and nightmarish. Told in a series of missives by Eva to her estranged husband in the wake of the incarceration of their 17-year-old son, Kevin, after Kevin's murderous rampage in school, the novel explores Eva's own feelings about motherhood as well as her observations of her difficult first child over the years. Raw and brutally honest and extremely unnerving.
8. World War Z, by Max Brooks. If you like your horror with a heaping helping of zombies, this is a must-read (especially if you liked the movie, which I thought was pretty good). An account of the decade-long conflict between humankind and hordes of the predatory undead is told from the perspective of dozens of survivors who describe in their own words the epic human battle for survival.
9. Misery, by Stephen King. One of the scariest King novels, in my opinion. Rescued after a car crash by his "Number One Fan", author Paul Sheldon is held captive by and forced to rewrite his most recent novel, yet to be published, to the specifications of crazed fan Annie Wilkes. But even as he mends and writes and plots his escape, Paul has to tread very carefully to try and stay alive, because Annie is lunatic who isn't afraid to hurt the one she loves. If you think you know the whole story because you've seen the movie, you don't know the half of it.
10. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill. This classic ghost story was unfortunately not particularly well done in its film release, but the novel itself is excellent--a chilling tale of a small English town haunted by a menacing specter. Guaranteed to make you jump at every noise in the night.
Want more recommendations? Stop by the library and check out this week's display of horror novels on the main floor, across from the circulation desk!