Literary Links: Unconventional Horror

I’m a big fan of horror in all of its forms. Movies, games, art — any form of media that can creep me out, gross me out or otherwise disturb me is right up my alley. I did, however, take a long break from reading horror novels, largely because a lot of what I was reading started to seem too similar. Many horror novelists had seen the success of authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz and read it like a formula. Lately, in an effort to rekindle my love for the genre, I’ve sought out the most interesting and unconventional recent horror novels I can find. I’m happy to say that the novels of today are just as spooky as I remember, more so in some cases. In preparation for the start of the spooky season, I’d like to share some of my new finds with you lovely readers.

The first few titles on this list break convention in that they are about Black characters and written by Black authors. “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor Lavalle is at once a tribute and a commentary, being a retelling of the classic H.P. Lovecraft story “The Horror at Red Hook,” which shifts the role of protagonist from the police officer of the original to a Black street hustler who becomes involved in a plot with a cosmic horror. “Sorrowland” by Rivers Solomon is the story of Vern, a 15-year-old pregnant Black girl who escapes into the woods from the religious commune that raised her. Yet, as Vern cares for her two children in the wilds, her body begins to undergo a monstrous transformation that spurs her to seek answers about what is truly happening to her.

Finally, in this block of books by Black authors, “Ring Shout” by P. Djèlí Clark tells a story of a demon-infested Ku Klux Klan, a ritual around the infamous racist propaganda film “The Birth of a Nation” and the crack team of Black freedom fighters working to bring the whole system down. Clark also gets bonus points for resisting the obvious cop-out of “the demons made us racist!”

Tender Is the Flesh” by Argentinian author Agustina Bazterrica, paints a bleak landscape of a land where cannibalism has been transformed from taboo to mundane, with all of the cold efficiency of industrial farming. With unflinching yet detached portrayals of graphic violence and a story drenched in human misery, this novel is a treat for readers looking for something truly disturbing. For another tense, gory delight, look to “Devolution” by Max Brooks, an epistolary novel (think found footage for books) that follows an isolated “green tech” community in the mountains of Washington that, after an eruption cuts it off from society, finds its members being hunted by their wilder neighbors. With its slow-burn pacing, well-researched setting and sudden shocks of violence, this novel is sure to have you thinking twice about your next camping trip.

Our last two unconventional horror stories lean more on the existential and imaginative end of the horror spectrum. “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones is a story of modern Native American men dealing with the consequences of a mistake made in their youth and the horror it has unleashed on their lives so many years later. A personal ghost story told through a Native American lens, this is a creepy delight that you don’t want to miss. Finally, “Something Is Killing the Children” written by James Tynion, with art by Werther Dell’Edera and Miquel Muerto, is a story of monsters born from the minds of children, and what happens when our usually harmless nightmares become deadly dangers. The unique premise and moody art help elevate this three volume graphic novel to a unique experience for horror fans. Be warned though: the book does at times depict violence against children.

And there’s my list of unconventional, creepy reads to start this fall off right! Hopefully you saw something that piqued your interest, or made your spine tingle. Happy reading!

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