It's coming, guys. October, the month of jack-o-lanterns and candy-apples, plastic skeletons and ratty-fabric ghosts hanging from neighborhood trees, kids and adults in costume and an overall feeling of madness and magic. It doesn't appeal to all, but for me, it's the time of year that I feel most alive. It marks the real beginning of fall for me and I begin to notice the leaves crunching underfoot and that special autumn scent and feel of the air that I can only describe as smokey and golden.
I decided, as a list-junkie, to make a list of my top five favorite works of freaky fiction in honor of All Hallows Eve. I admit to not reading as much horror fiction because I am actually a bit of a wimp (I'm notoriously afraid of the dark and my weekly viewing of the first season of The Walking Dead gave me regular nightmares until I decided it would be best not to watch it anymore, at least until it was on DVD and I could watch in one fell swoop). Therefore, my list tends to lean toward suspense rather than actual horror, but I feel that the psychological horror depicted in these works is still relevant. Feel free to add your own list in the comments, though!
1. The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters: This book was a departure for Waters from her usual tales of lesbian characters and their struggles, but it does have a similar unnerving atmosphere to her previous book Affinity. It tells the story of a family that has lived for a long time in a large, old estate and a doctor that comes in to treat a servant but becomes tangled up in the affairs of the family. At first, it seems as if it is simply financial strain and a son/brother's waning mental and physical health are at fault for all their trouble -- but sightings of a figure and encounters with a possibly malevolent force within the house begins to point to a haunting as the root of all things.
2. We Have Always Lived In The Castle – Shirley Jackson: The narrator is Mary Katherine Blackwood and when we first meet "Merricat," she seems like just an eccentric, bookish teenager. But as the book's story unfolds, our narrator seems more and more unhinged until the final reveal. A very cool, creepy story.
3. Room – Emma Donoghue: Room is creepy mostly because of the subject matter. It could truly happen and has; there have been cases like this, in which young women are abducted, held captive, raped and even give birth to their rapist's child or children. The story here is most chilling because it is told by a child that simply doesn't understand the things that are happening around him and how desperate the situation is. And yet, he -- this little boy called Jack -- is the hope his mother carries to rescue her from the man who has kept her captive in a small room in his backyard for so long. This book is less about the madman and more about the ordeal that Jack and his mother must endure to escape, but the suspense will keep you up at night and that's enough of a reason for it to make this list.
4. Lost Souls - Poppy Z. Brite: I have already given a nod to this book in the past, so I won't go in-depth here. But this is probably the closest thing to traditional horror that you will find on my list. Plenty of graphic blood and gore scenes here and some of the most frightening and dangerous vampires I have ever met in popular fiction.
5. Beloved - Toni Morrison: Part magical realism, part ghost story, Toni Morrison's Pulitzer-winning novel was the most spine-tingling book I've ever had to read for a lit class - topping even Henry James and Edgar Allen Poe because, instead of just dealing with the story of a poltergeist and a possible back-from-the-dead daughter, it also deals with the harsh realities of post-slavery life and the horrors that our main character, Sethe's early life (working as a slave on a plantation until she escapes) has left her scarred with. The reluctance of the characters to tell their truths, their whispering fear of the unknown and the open ending leave readers feeling a little haunted by something themselves.
And that's my list. Aside from writing it, other things I have been doing to get in that October mood (not that it's hard; as soon as the temperature and the light changed, I was on board with this whole autumn thing) is obsessing about what my costume might be (if you're at a loss, Martha Stewart's website has some nifty ideas that look super-easy) and looking at Pinterest posts tagged with the word "Halloween." As the month progresses, I'll try to post more about things like fun spooky music mixes, scary movies you may not have seen and finding Halloween events in your area. Chicago has an actual Halloween parade every year, which is a nice way to see a lot of costumes and show off your own.
Until next Thursday, pleasant nightmares, kitties! ;-P