Stories That Delve into the Darkness

Posted by Cybil on October 16, 2017
Biographer Ruth Franklin's National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life places beloved horror writer Jackson within an American Gothic tradition that stretches back to Hawthorne and Poe. Here Franklin shares how Stephen King sparked her love of the genre, and she recommends some dark tales to enjoy this Halloween.


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My first taste of horror came at a high school slumber party. After the pizza and ice cream, somebody popped Pet Sematary into the VCR, and we all hunkered down on the couch. As the burial ground began to reveal its awful secrets, I was surprised to find myself in tears. It wasn't the gore that got to me; it was the story's human pain. Who wouldn't pay any price to bring a dead child or spouse back to life? Even if we were warned things might go horribly wrong, wouldn't we still want them back?

The movie sent me to Stephen King's bestselling 1983 novel, and then I was hooked. I read horror voraciously throughout my teenage years and beyond, always searching for something like the combination of terror and pathos that I first glimpsed in Pet Sematary. (A nice bit of trivia: Reportedly, King put that novel aside after writing it, worried that it was too dark.) Horror, at its best, doesn't offer just scary images—it investigates the question of fear itself. What we're most afraid of, it often turns out, are the things that make us most human.

Here are a few recommendations of books that aren't afraid to go deep into the dark.

The Dark Half, by Stephen King. This novel about a writer who gets hijacked by his own alter ego is one of King's best. In addition to being incredibly creepy—I'll never forget the sparrows—it's a profound meditation on writer's block (which he also treats unforgettably in The Shining) and the creative process.

The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice. Fans of Rice's vampire novels tend to overlook this book about a family of women with psychic powers and the spirit familiar—or demon—who guides them. A villain at once sinister and deeply alluring, he's what makes this book extraordinary. Rice's prose is always lush, whether she's describing the mansions of New Orleans's Garden District (and instilling in me a lifelong desire to see them) or the swampy plantations of the Old South, but sex has always been one of her specialties, and that's what's truly at stake here: the depth of sexual obsession and the lengths to which we're willing to go for it.

Come Along With Me, by Shirley Jackson. As her biographer, I couldn't make a list like this without including something by Jackson. Of course, The Haunting of Hill House is her best-known work of horror, with good reason. But this posthumously published collection contains a number of lesser known stories that might be just as eerie. In The Beautiful Stranger, a woman greets her husband after a business trip and discovers he's turned into an identical, but different, person. In A Visit, a kind of precursor to Hill House, a girl falls in love with a man only she can see. And The Rock—which Jackson pulled almost verbatim from a diary she kept of her dreams—features another mysterious man who may or may not be human.

What are your favorite "deep" horror novels? Let me know in the comments.


The Dark Half
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The Witching Hour
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Come Along With Me
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See the complete coverage of Horror Week including:
Top 50 Favorite Horror Novels on Goodreads
The Campy, Bizarre World of Paperback Horror
Supernatural Tales and Spooky Folklore


Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)

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Olivia "So many books--so little time."" I'd like to read more by Shirley Jackson. The only story of hers that I've read is The Lottery, which we studied in school.


message 2: by Riley (new)

Riley Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" wrote: "I'd like to read more by Shirley Jackson. The only story of hers that I've read is The Lottery, which we studied in school."

Same here. The one novel of hers I have read is We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I adored it. Highly recommend!


message 3: by Lady Jayme, (new)

Lady Jayme, I'm about to read The Haunting of Hill House for the first time, with a friend. :)


message 4: by Jennyc (new)

Jennyc The Haunting of Hill House might be my favorite scary novel. There is a movie version from the 1960's which is very scary. A more recent version exists, but it's not good.


message 5: by Bryce (new)

Bryce Warren Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" wrote: "I'd like to read more by Shirley Jackson. The only story of hers that I've read is The Lottery, which we studied in school."

The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are two great novels by Shirley Jackson that would be a good place to start!


message 6: by Christina (new)

Christina Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" wrote: "I'd like to read more by Shirley Jackson. The only story of hers that I've read is The Lottery, which we studied in school."

I read both "The Haunting of Hill House" and "We Have Always Lived in the Castle." I highly recommend both of these stories but "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" is in a league of its own.


message 7: by Michele (new)

Michele The Haunting of Hill House still raises the hackles on my neck. I found it interesting that she could write things so scary and yet be so funny (her story about the night her whole family had the croup was one of the funniest pieces of American Lit ever.) But the Haunting of Hill House, especially those last couple of paragraphs still unsettle me. The 1960s movie was so completely horrifying without being over the top or needful of special effects. The one from 1999: too much CGI and WAY too much Disney thrown in to create a forced happy ending. Ick.


message 8: by Kendra (new)

Kendra I can't wait to try Come Along with Me. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my all-time favorites, and We Have always Lived in the Castle is right up there, too. But the first Shirley Jackson book I ever read was Raising Demons, which is absolutely brilliant! As for other horror novels, Stephen King's The Shining still haunts me - especially the topiary garden - and I also love almost all of Phil Rickman's books, both the Merrily Watkins series and the earlier, even darker stuff.


message 9: by Nancy (new)

Nancy I just finished reading Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life....I would highly recommend it as backround info about this author.

I’ve never read Shirley Jackson….now I have to.
She wrote short stories and novels despite this endless torrent of
criticism from her mother and the marriage from hell.


message 10: by Keith (new)

Keith CARTER Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" wrote: "I'd like to read more by Shirley Jackson. The only story of hers that I've read is The Lottery, which we studied in school." Please Hillary read The Haunting Of Hill House, it is exceptional.


message 11: by Keith (new)

Keith CARTER Nancy wrote: "I just finished reading Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life....I would highly recommend it as backround info about this author.

I’ve never read Shirley Jackson….now I have to.
She wrote short..."
Nancy, have you read The Haunting Of Hill House? It frightened me to death.


message 12: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Keith wrote: "Nancy wrote: "I just finished reading Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life....I would highly recommend it as backround info about this author.

I’ve never read Shirley Jackson….now I have to.
S..."


Keith, perfect timing... The Haunting of Hill House sounds like the BEST read during the pre Halloween celebration!


message 13: by Keith (last edited Oct 19, 2017 07:24AM) (new)

Keith CARTER I promise you, Nancy, it is THE best haunted house book ever written. The 1963 film of the book is also highly recommended. (THE HAUNTING)


message 14: by Nancy (new)

Nancy Keith wrote: "I promise you, Nancy, it is THE best haunted house book ever written. The 1963 film of the book is also highly recommended. (THE HAUNTING)"

:)


message 15: by R (new)

R The Witching Hour all the way. I haven't finished it yet but its amazing.


message 16: by Jackie (new)

Jackie Mungle I would love to read the Witching Hour, Haven't heard of any of these books,


message 17: by Amy (new)

Amy Jackson's shorter works are great. Not always horror, but they always make you just a little uneasy.


message 18: by Paul (new)

Paul I think The Haunting of Hill House is a wildly overrated novel. Like most people, I read it expecting some sort of scary horror tale, based on what I had always heard about it. It IS slightly interesting as a tale of psychological suspense, but it should never be classified as "horror" or "scary", because it is NOT at all! There are a couple very brief scenes of some unknown force banging on the doors in the house, but that's as "scary" as the novel ever gets. Why people include it so often on lists of "horror" fiction is beyond me.


message 19: by Suvi (new)

Suvi Paul wrote: "I think The Haunting of Hill House is a wildly overrated novel. Like most people, I read it expecting some sort of scary horror tale, based on what I had always heard about it. It IS slightly inter..."

It's definitely horror, but the thing about Shirley Jackson is that her style is very subtle and she tries to dig deep under your skin without being too obvious and over the top. Everyone has their own line of what makes them scared (for example, The Exorcist didn't scare me at all), but horror doesn't necessarily have to scare the crap out of the reader to be effective.


message 20: by Keith (new)

Keith CARTER Luckily peoples views of books differ, but you cannot deny Shirley Jackson's skill in writing "creepy" novels, be it her shorter works or her longer works such as The Haunting Of Hill House.


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