It’s October, and that means nightfall creeps earlier every day and the shadows lengthen from skeletal trees. The fall is the perfect time to start taking on the book list that you’ve had accumulate over the summer. With Halloween right around the corner, it’s a good time to take a look at some great horror novels to crack open.
Why you’ll love these picks:
Andrew Liptak: one of the most popular horror books of the year is Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, gathering acclaim from authors like Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. The story takes place in a small Hudson Valley town called Black Spring. which is haunted by the Black Rock Witch, who enters people’s homes and lingers next to the beds of children. The town has taken extreme measures to cope, becoming a surveillance state to better track the apparition — and to make sure the town’s residents keep in line.
What’s really appealing to me about this book is how it blends an Upstate New York brand of Gothic horror with modern day technology.
Megan Farokhmanesh: I find myself picking up one of his books every year around this time. In the wake of the great clown panic of 2016, there is no better time than now to revisit Stephen King’s It. The novel, published in 1986, introduced a shapeshifting evil that favored the form of a clown. Said clown uses the power of fear and phobia to exploit Its victims’ weaknesses and make their deaths (or psychological torture) all the more unsettling. It’s not just that It will kill you; It wants to feed on your fear with the same eagerness I reserve for free food.
Andrew: Speaking of Stephen King, his son, author Joe Hill, released his latest novel The Fireman in May, and it’s a really fantastic read. This book feels like the Stephen King-ieset of all Hill’s novels (Heart Shaped Box, Horns and NOS4A2 are all excellent and you should pick them up). In The Fireman, a fungus is sweeping over America, one that causes its victims to spontaneously combust. A nurse, Harper Grayson, flees to a refuge after contracting Dragonscale, hoping to survive long enough to give birth to her child.
Hill’s playing with a bunch of things: how communities can turn evil when driven by fear, how small-town dictators can feed of local anxieties, and lots of weird mind-meldy stuff. It feels especially relevant this year.
Speaking of small-town horror, there’s a new graphic novel adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic short story The Lottery. Miles Hyman is Jackson’s grandson and has filled this book with some beautiful illustrations. If you’ve never come across it, this is a good introduction to one of the creepiest short stories ever written.
Megan: Ooh, Shirley Jackson! I’m a fan of The Haunting of Hill House. There’ve been a couple movies inspired by the book, but we don’t speak of them. They Are Bad. The novel was published back in 1959, but I still really dig the premise: creepy old mansion, oddball characters, ghostly flair. The book centers around four characters who opt to live in an old mansion for the summer and suss out paranormal activity. Jackson plays with the traditional idea of bad things happening in old houses, but it also makes you skeptical of trusting the characters.
Which brings me to my next book, by John Ajvide Lindqvist: Let the Right One. It follows a young, bullied boy named Oskar who meets a child vampire, Eli. I’m not usually into books that follow kids because I’m a cantankerous grump, but I like the unusual best friendship that blooms between the two. Eli and Oskar, these darling little weirdos, both need companionship and and help. It’s a dark story with a lot of murder that’s … well, not really what I’d call a feel-good time, but an entertaining one.
Andrew: Another book that I’ve been excited to dig into is Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, one of the books that I dropped into our October New Adventures list earlier this month. Moreno-Garcia takes us to Mexico City, where a vampire named Alt is on the run from a rival clan and falls for a street kid named Domingo. As the turf war between narco-Vampire clans heats up, Ana, a Mexico City cop finds herself in the midst of this bewildering mess. Admittedly, Vampire novels are something that’s easy to roll your eyes at, but Moreno-Garcia has put together an intriguing story seeped in the history of Mexico City along with a vividly imagined trio of characters.
If you like vampires, a really fun, bite-sized read is Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson, which puts another modern spin on the creatures. Vampires are walking around, a branch of the FBI is tasked with investigating them, and a bunch of people die. It’s a book that’s great for the train or plane, because it’s fun, engaging, and short, coming in under 200 pages.
Megan: Veering far away from vampire fiction for a moment — if I had my way, my recommendation list would just be The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson repeated 12 times. I’m a sucker for true (or “true”) stories, and this book about a family moving into a house post-mass murder is my personal chef’s kiss. They stayed only 28 days, and their account includes nightmares, unexplained incidents, physical ailments, kids acting creepy, and so much more. It gives me cold sweats just thinking about it.
Andrew: The Amityville Horror figured in prominently in Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts last year, which I recommend picking up. His latest novel Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is one that I found particularly horrifying as a parent: A mother, Elizabeth Sanderson, learns that her teenage son Tommy has vanished in a local park. The police begin a massive search for the boy and the media descend on the town, and she begins to think that she’s seeing traces of Tommy around the house. Pages from his diary mysteriously appear. What she isn’t prepared for is what she begins to learn about her son, and what events might have led to his disappearance.
I picked up both books this year and blew right through them. Tremblay’s an author who is deeply aware of how the genre works, and his books do a great job slowly cranking up the temperature. The books get more and more unsettling as you turn the pages, but you can’t look away.
Megan: What is it about family stories that makes horror so much more interesting? I’m really in love with Mark Z. Danielewski‘s House of Leaves. It’s a little tough to describe because it’s kind of story-in-a-story; the book follows a struggling tattoo parlor employee who finds an academic account of a fictional documentary. The Navidson Record, the doc in question, is really what makes this one compelling. The family it focuses on learns that their house grows and shrinks at will, adding new terrifying new rooms. What follows is partly an examination of how their relationships are impacted, and partly an exploration of this strange space. I’m a sucker for this book for many reasons, but I above all love how it presents its words. Sentences run off the page, carry different highlighted words, and generally do interesting things with typography that make reading feel like making a discovery.