By Grant Longstaff
“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
As a lifelong horror fan, I’ve read much of King’s work and, in regards to the magic of books, Uncle Stevie is right on the money. However, I don’t know how portable much of his back catalogue is…
Below, I’ve listed several recent favourites that will give your wrists and spine a break from the weighty tomes The King is known for. These suggestions are short reads, but still have all the terror a horror fan could possibly crave. Several of them come from the indie publishing scene. Like cinema, some of the best fiction is lost in a deluge of superstar saturation, so I wanted to shine a light into those unknown corners.
And, no, none of the writers below are the next King. Nor are they trying to be. They are unique storytellers in their own right. Take a look at their unfamiliar nightmares and discover fear anew…
Teenager Melissa, along with her parents and younger brother, take refuge in their bathroom from an approaching tornado. This bleak examination of a family already on the brink of collapse is relentless. You can only wince at each chilling encounter, endure every claustrophobic moment, as you hurtle towards the conclusion. There is no way out of this novella. The story is dark but absolutely worth it. It will linger long after you read the final pages. 2021 will also see the release of a film adaptation. Check out We Need to Do Something before it hits cinema screens.
Nothing by Janne Teller
If you like your horror full of existentialism, then this is required reading. When Pierre stands up in class and declares there is no meaning to life his classmates set out to prove him wrong. They begin constructing a monument, of the things most meaningful to them, with escalating consequences. The naiveté of the protagonist, detailing the increasingly morbid contributions to the pile of meaning and the subsequent impact, is deeply chilling. Don’t be put off by the categorisation of Nothing as a young adult book. It’s horrifying.
This is the shortest story on the list, but no less powerful for it. Shards opens with five friends taking a trip to an old cabin in the woods. Familiar territory for even fledgling horror fans. What happens next is anything but. The horror they witness in the wilderness is only the beginning of a much more terrifying ordeal. To say more would spoil this one. Need more convincing? This one is free to read at Tor.com.
The story centres on Irina, a photographer, who takes explicit photos of men she meets on the streets of Newcastle. Not a novel you would immediately label as horror, but one I think it deserves none the less. The world of Boy Parts – like Irina herself – is dangerous and full of brutality. Some readers have drawn comparisons to Patrick Bateman, but this feels like a disservice, Clark has created her own antihero in Irina. This is a vicious book, full of biting observations and pitch-black humour. Check it out.
What if our villains were a necessary evil to protect our world and others from something far more dangerous? This is a wild, bloody ride which subverts the slasher genre in ways I never saw coming. There is plenty of bloodshed, but there is also a great deal of heart. It examines the lengths we might go to in order to protect those we love most. Sometimes we have to become the monster to save the world.
A brother and sister set out on a brutal and bloody road trip after killing their mother. There are shades of Natural Born Killers in True Crime, but instead of psychedelic pomp we have nightmarish realism. This is a bleak story and not for the fainthearted. The horror is entirely human. You’ll need a shower after this one.
H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Horror of Red Hook’ was merely a vessel to channel his own racism and bigotry. Victor LaValle’s retelling of the tale tackles that racism head on and brings new life to the Great Old Ones. The dual presence of cosmic horror and the very real horror of racism make The Ballad of Black Tom smarter and infinitely more poignant than the vapid source material. Also, there’s an adaptation from AMC in the works.
The list won’t fill you; it is barely an appetiser. I could have listed so many more.
However, I hope you’ll take some of these unlit roads and brave their unknown darkness. With any luck, you might even survive…
If you want more recommendations, or to make your own, give me a shout on Twitter @GrantLongstaff