Saturday, September 26, 2015

It Knows What Scares You

My favorite time of year is just around the corner. In preparation for that, I’d like to mention some of my favorite Horror novels and stories, and why I love them.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Last time, I mentioned that I love great dialog. The other thing I adore is atmosphere, and if there’s one thing that Jackson exceeds at, it’s atmosphere. She has a way with words and the psychology of her characters that’ll make your skin crawl. The other thing I adore about her is that she’s subtle. Everything seems ordinary on the surface, but the feeling of unease creeps in and builds and builds. Her skill with unreliable narrators is incredible. It’s like magic. I’ll give you the opening paragraph:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

I understand she based the setting on the Winchester House, which is interesting, since I understand there’s not a square corner to be found in it at all.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury 
This was the first adult SFF novel I ever read. I was obsessed with it as a kid, and I still read it every Halloween. Published in 1962, any spooky story involving carnivals and sinister wish-granters owes a debt to Bradbury. (Yes, including Stephen King’s Needful Things.) It’s a wonderful parable about the good and evil inside every human being. It’s about temptation, sin, love, and courage. It’s about hope too which is odd, I know, for a horror novel. That’s what’s so wonderful about it. And while I felt the film captured the feel of the novel perfectly, and the casting was dead right, I hated Disney’s version of the witch and its rewritten ending. (I still do.) The Dust Witch/Mummy is creepy as shit. Bonus points for killing off the Big Bad™ with a smile.
Carrie by Stephen King — Based loosely upon King’s memory of a long dead classmate, this is the most exquisite horror novel. So much of it resonated with me. I didn’t fit in as a kid, and King did a brilliant job of tapping into the psyche of the outcast teenaged girl. So much so, that it still rings true after all these years. (It was published in 1974.) Definitely read the novel—although, the 1976 film version is very good. With its fake newspaper clippings inserted in between chapters, Carrie references Truman Capote’s (non-fiction novel) In Cold Blood[1] in a way. Ultimately, it makes it even more realistic and terrifying. King’s book (like Capote’s) is a heavy-hitter. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful. (It’s also connected to Firestarter. Do read that too.)
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is a wonderfully creepy novel all on its own. Mind you, it has very little to do with the film. (I adore the film too.) Read it. It’s fantastic, poetic, atmospheric, and wicked. Hoffman is one of my favorite writers.
If vampires are your thing, I highly recommend Nancy Collins’s Sonia Blue series. Start with Sunglasses After Dark. Her work can be difficult to find, but it’s well worth the effort to track down. After Collins, I’d also recommend Charlie Huston’s Already Dead
If you like Lovecraft, I recommend Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft. Priest is a great writer. She took the Lizzie Borden story and gave it a Lovecraftian twist. Thoroughly researched, it’s really, really good in much the same way as the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore.
Speaking of comic books… the last thing I’ll recommend is John Constantine: Hellblazer. It is, hands down, one of my four favorite comic books ever. Forget the movie.[2] The comic book series is where it’s at. Constantine is a near-perfect analog for British Colonialism. Self-involved and arrogant, he takes anything he fancies will grant him a bit of power and makes it his own—and then everyone pays a very high price for it, including himself. It’s very dark and haunting and wonderful. The interesting thing is, I don’t much care for assholes who don’t get their due. And that’s why I love seeing Constantine getting the snot kicked out of him. I do feel a little sorry for him, but like every other person that knows him for longer than a quarter hour, I know he’s a weak asshole…except when he’s not. He’s complicated. I love complicated.
Enjoy! And have a wonderful October, y’all.
[1] By the way, Capote’s In Cold Blood is the first True Crime novel. If you’re into those, you should definitely read it. Then watch the film Capote afterward. It’ll thump you a good one upside the head, particularly if you’re a writer. Talk about horrific. Wow.
[2] Although, I admit I have a weakness for it [cough]Tilda Swinton’s Gabriel[cough], but even I have to think of it as a separate entity from the comics.

No comments: