Multcolib My Librarian Nick: Horror for the non-horror reader
Annotation:I cannot think of a better place to start than this searing first literary novel from the late Banks. Set on an island off the coast of Scotland, this tense, lean narrative from the perspective of sixteen-year old Frank Cauldhame defines true family dysfunction. There is nothing evil in this exceptional character study, just the horrific yet fascinating glimpses into isolated minds.
Annotation:A psychological corkscrew full of originality and madness, this novel published in 1946 was sold as crime fiction but descends into a blurred carnival of twisted noir. An inventive mind hurricane, for those noir lovers who don’t like everything wrapped up in a tidy bow.
Annotation:The third book in a trilogy featuring the wisecracking, immoral, and gluttonous art-dealer Charlie Mortdecai is so full of laughs and politically incorrect humor that one can forget how the story descends into grim lands. This 1976 novel reads like a sarcastic mix of "The Wicker Man" and Monty Python.
Annotation:Brown, a prolific pulp writer of many genres, experiments with different narrative devices to tell the story of young Joe Bailey, a boy psychologically scarred from a childhood nursery rhyme. Dreams, trauma, and romance drive this suspenseful novel initiated entirely by the jingle: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed/And here comes a chopper to chop off your head.”
Annotation:Before Lessing won the Nobel Prize for Literature, she penned this dark, probing study of the fragile state of a seemingly ‘perfect’ suburban family. Very real and chilling portrait of human reactions. Highly recommended.
Annotation:An early novel from the lyrical wordsmith and definitely his darkest, most disturbing work. The tale of Lester Ballard is similar to that of Frank Cauldhame (see Banks, above) in its window into the mind of an isolated protagonist. Not for the squeamish.
Annotation:A sprawling Southern Gothic classic from the prolific Oates. The story of six generations of a rich, influential family in upstate New York who breed a Gong Show of descendants: serial killers, religious fanatics, vampires, scientists, gamblers, and a carnie-esque heroine. Be patient, for this novel is hefty, but once you peek inside the tent you’d better make sure you have enough change to see the entire sideshow.
Annotation:Whenever I read Oates, the same buzzwords always remind me of Poe: gothic, grotesque, and macabre. Her canon is endless it seems and her place in literary history long since respected but at least ten of her books could be on this list. For her effective short stories try this most recent collection and...
Annotation: Like haunted houses? Southern Gothic? Read this. Now. No ghosts or supernatural forces at play, just the erratic horrors of suburban life where the house itself turns its occupants into fierce caricatures of their normal selves. Makes "The Amityville Horror" look like a Nicholas Sparks novel. Highly recommended.
Annotation:Another unique novel that can’t decide whether it’s a mystery, thriller, speculative sci-fi, or horror tale. The setting is 2006 as the “near-future” where men and women are sold as art objects and displayed in museums all over the world. Rituals, fetishes, and suspense keep the tension strong. You’ll never look at a Rembrandt the same way again.
Annotation:Anyone who has experienced a friend or family member with mental illness can painfully relate to this trailblazing novel from 1946. This book hit the bestseller list yet it also brought to attention the barbaric and dated treatment of electro-shock therapy. A humbling journey of a read, way ahead of its time. Avoid the sanitized film adaptation.
Annotation:After viewing Sam Peckinpah’s film version of this novel, "Straw Dogs," I had to read the source material. Williams’s story is infinitely more gripping and rewarding. Another glimpse into society’s hazy reactions to mental illness and the paranoia it can instill, this story of an American family in rural England displays the fine line between civilization and the fringes of human prejudice.
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For those discerning readers who wouldn't be caught, well, dead in the stacks with a horror book. Try one of these dark yet 'respectable' literary and mystery fiction titles that have no supernatural or traditional horror elements, just the ominous psyches of everyday people. True horror is right next door!