Halloween decorations have been in stores since late July. We imagine, for fleeting moments early in the morning and late at night, that the temperatures have gotten cooler. Pumpkin spice everything adorns menus and store shelves. Yes, Fall is upon Middle Tennessee once again, and as dark shadows stretch across land parched by heat--seriously, why is it still so hot??--we crave, once more, tales of the unknown, the eerie, and (dare we say it?) of the spoopy.
Last year I shared some of my favorite horror novels to help you get into the spirit of All Hallow's Eve. It was a really fun post to write, so I decided to resurrect the concept. Shambling onward, arms reaching out, yearning for your braaaiiiinnnsssss, here are my suggestions for your October 2016 reading:
The residents of Harrow County brutally executed Hester Beck, the witch terrorizing their bucolic home. Eighteen years later, as Emmy comes of age in the shadow of the tree where Hester died, horror again creeps into Harrow County. Can Emmy survive being the heir of the witch? This graphic novel collects the first arc of Harrow County and is filled with down-home creepiness, from graveyard ghosts engulfed in flames to a flayed boy and his whispering skin, with plenty of all-too-human horrors in between. The Southern girl in me smiled from the minute I saw "haint" in the title, and the story delivered much of what I expected: eerie characters, folksy atmosphere, and truly beautiful, macabre art. (If you read this and want more, you're in luck: LPLS also owns volumes two and three.)
My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
You have to hand it to Quirk Books and Grady Hendrix (Horrorstör): together, they produce some of the most stylish and fun horror on the market today. My Best Friend's Exorcism is like Heathers meets The Exorcist, set in an affluent Charleston high school in the '80s and examining what happens when it-girl Gretchen becomes possessed by a demon who sets out to ruin the lives of everyone around its host. It falls to Abby, Gretchen's best friend since elementary school, to save her despite the scrutiny and disbelief of their classmates and parents. My Best Friend's Exorcism transcends mere scares, becoming, by the end, a surprisingly affecting portrait of female friendship.
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman
I make no secret that Neil Gaiman is indisputably my favorite author ever, and pretty much all of his work contains chilling elements that recommend him for your Halloween reading. (I mean, we're talking about the man who came up with All Hallow's Read, for goodness's sake.) Fragile Things is an especially apt choice for the season, though, containing seasonably-appropriate notables such as "October in the Chair," "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire," and my favorite of all of his poems, "The Hidden Chamber." You're welcome to pick and choose, but I suspect that once you read a few of these stories, you'll want to read the rest. To really capture the tell-me-a-story feeling of his work, check out the audio version of Fragile Things, narrated by Neil himself. His voice makes perfect listening for dark autumn evenings.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Camille Preaker, a newspaper journalist and recovering cutter, returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of one young girl and subsequent disappearance of another. A child victim, strangled, teeth removed... It's grisly stuff, scary enough on its own. But Flynn takes material that could have made a lurid, dime-a-dozen thriller and spins it into a deeply chilling family saga full of her trademark, fascinatingly unsympathetic characters. I tore through this novel, dreading each revelation but powerless to stop turning the pages.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
This is one of those spectacular books that are remarkably tricky to recommend. You want to give the would-be reader enough of a hook to convince them to actually read the book, but if you delve beyond even a shallow synopsis, you risk spoiling the whole thing. So here's all you need to know: Stanislas Cordova is an eccentric cult horror director who has not appeared in public for years. His daughter, former piano prodigy Ashley, is found dead in a Chinatown warehouse, apparently by her own hand. Disgraced investigative journalist Scott McGrath decides to look into her death, bringing along a whole lot of baggage. Major suspense and creeping dread ensue. You won't be able to stop reading. Check it out now.