This weekend is the secular-pagan holiday we can all get behind: Halloween. Once a time of fear and foreboding, Halloween has been transformed by thrill-crazed Americans into a festival of decoration, amusing cocktails, and opportunities to look just slightly naughty on social media.
But scary stories (even in naughty costume form) remain the cornerstone of the All Hallow’s tradition. In the spirit of the witchiest season, and to prove we can create a post that doesn’t try to sell you one of our own books, the Large Blog presents a gathering of tales sure to startle, enfright, suspensefulize, and otherwise entertain even the most jaded ax murderer among your friends.
Monkey Shines, by Michael Stewart
Monkey Shines is unsettling enough in that it presents a straight-between-the-eyes portrait of suddenly becoming quadriplegic. In fact, that comes across as far scarier than the horror elements of the plot, something that says a lot about how mainstream society perceives the disabled. Allan, a long-distance runner, is hit by a truck. Unable to cope with life as a quadriplegic, Allan lashes out at those trying to help. In quiet moments he broods on his disability, the inarticulate anger it unleashes, suicide, and slights large and small. A scientist friend gives Allan a Capuchin monkey named Ella as a helper. Allan and Ella form a bond so intense they share dreams; they also share the experimental drugs intended to make Ella more intelligent. Ella becomes steadily more possessive, to the point of isolating Allan. Eventually, a jealousy-fueled monkey rampage ensues.
Class Trip, by Emmanuel Carrere
Like a lot of the better suspense works, Class Trip builds chills in the personal terrors of a protagonist, while sketching in more fantastic horrors in the background. Class Trip is the story of shy, friendless Nicholas, a ten year old about to spend a week with classmates at a ski lodge. By nature anxious, he is particularly terrified by the idea the other boys will find about he wets the bed. Worse, on the way to the lodge, his father tells him about a band of killers who murder children for their organs. The father’s occupation, by the way? Selling plastic prosthetic human body parts. The boy forgets his suitcase in the car, setting off more discomfort. Then his father fails to return with it. Then a murdered child turns up near the ski lodge, sending Nicholas’s imagination into overdrive. And, hey, just what’s in those carrying cases stored in the trunk of his father’s car?
Cold Skin, by Albert Sánchez Piñol
Lonely Antarctic island. Monstrous frog creatures from the sea. Crazed lighthouse operator. Philosophical meditations. What more could we ask for as readers? Written by a Catalan anthropologist, Cold Skin throws an existentially weary traveler onto a sub-arctic beach—and into a war with the seemingly malevolent humanoids who dwell in the nearby ocean. The real villain is the crazed lighthouse keeper, who first wants nothing to do with the protagonist, soon becomes his ally, and ends up being a sort of role model. Psychology, violence, evil, xenophobia, sexual confusion, loneliness—the entire horror gamut gets run, and it’s an intelligent story to boot.
The Ruins, by Scott Smith
Praised to the skies by Stephen King, The Ruins inspired a film and sold a bundle of copies. A group of clueless and not-all-that-likable tourists trek to a remote Mayan archaeological site in search of an authentic travel experience, and get way more that what’s promised in their Lonely Planet guide. Blood-drinking, body-possessing vines (!) rule the hill that the Mayan town sits upon. That’s bad enough. The vines are also sentient, can mimic sounds and voices, and are able to move about. Also bad. Finally, locals wait at the foot of the hill to kill any of the vine-infested victims who try to escape. There’s some pretty gruesome moments, and some more scary ones, and as his debut novel A Simple Plan showed, Smith knows how to write. Listed at 384 pages, The Ruins drags at times like a 600-page doorstopper. Then again, horror fans seem to like very long books, so what do I know?
Love Story, by Erich Segal
“Love Story is an experience,” some marketing mope wrote long ago, and millions upon millions experienced it as both a novel and a film that reputedly saved Paramount Pictures. A terrifying tale of forbidden love and disease, Love Story is, well, just that, a love story between a rich boy jock with a cold father and a funky, artsy baker’s daughter. Though from world’s apart, the pair falls in love and suffers hard times. The rich boy’s father disowns him, meaning the guy has to actually work, but he gets through Harvard Law and lands in a nice New York City firm. When the couple fails to conceive a child, doctors find Jenny (the woman in the love story) is suffering from leukemia. In a fantastic breach of medical ethics, the physicians—and Jenny’s husband—fail to tell her she’s sick, a whopper of a plot device on a par with sentient Mayan vines. Jenny learns anyway and from there the tears end up jerked, and jerked hard. Love, and millions of copies sold, means never having to say you’re sorry.