Happy Halloween creative writers, English majors, and literature enthusiasts! It is that time of year again—my favorite time—when everything creepy and disturbing is embraced and everyone suddenly becomes horror fans. I love this sudden shift because it gives me a chance to geek out about my love for those eerie short stories and novels. I’ve gathered four of my favorite works that left me feeling puzzled, disgusted, disturbed, and begging for more. If any of you decide to read my suggestions I hope they leave you feeling the same way.
Set in the late 19th century, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a series of journal entries, written in the first person by a woman suffering from postpartum depression. Her husband—a physician—rents out a isolated country estate for her medical treatment. Forbidden to work, the isolation soon takes its toll and the narrator becomes obsessed with the yellow wallpaper in her room. Convinced that there is a woman imprisoned within the wallpaper’s pattern the narrator quickly loses her mind.
When I first read this short story my initial thought was, “I want to write something like this one day.” I was enthralled with the concept and Gilman’s perfect execution of an unreliable narrator. The transformation of the main character throughout the plot was unexpected and that metamorphosis makes this story so eerie. I am still fascinated with how Gilman is able to take a concept like postpartum depression and create such a creepy story. For a short read this piece will leave you feeling confused and genuinely disturbed.
The utopian town of Stepford, Connecticut seems like the American dream to Joanna and her family. But soon the submissive and flawless wives of the town stir curiosity within Joanna who begins to question the patriarchy of the community. Joanna’s investigation leads her to discover the horrible truth behind the docile wives of Stepford.
Known for the 2004 remake starring Nicole Kidman, “The Stepford Wives” has been adapted for the screen twice. I was originally a fan of the movie until I discovered the book a few years later. Levin’s version is completely different than the movie! I found “The Stepford Wives” to be the perfect balance of science fiction and horror which is not an easy task. This novel lacks a traditional ending and the resolution leaves the reader with many questions. Although I appreciate Levin’s ending I would recommend reading the book and then watching the movie. Both endings offer a different take on the ideas of patriarchy, technology, and the power of control—but keep in mind the book was written in 1972.
In 1974, Robert DeFeo murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters in their home on Long Island. A year later the Lutz family moved in only to flee in terror after a month
of paranormal and supernatural occurrences. “The Amityville Horror” addresses the rumors and events that took place at the iconic house. Based on actual events this novel captures the truth behind the Lutz’s paranormal encounters.
Finally, an actual horror story with the word “horror” in the title! This was the first horror novel that I read and it spurred my interest in reading other paranormal stories. I have always been intrigued by books based off of true events. This particular topic of the DeFeo home and the Lutz family has been warped by the film industry many times so it is refreshing to go back and read the original account. This book will leave you frightened and, if you are like me, extremely scared of pigs. This is truly a terrifying novel and I commend Anson’s writing for capturing the suspense, hysteria, and fear that the Lutz family experienced.
4. Salem Possessed by Paul Boyer, Stephen Nissenbaum
A historical account of what lead to and happened during the Salem Witch Trials. “Salem Possessed” examines the truth behind the men and women involved with the hysteria of 1692 and the countless lives lost. Beyond the trials, Boyer and Nissenbaum look at the impact the events had on the idea of the American experience.
I LOVE Puritans. You can ask anyone, I can talk for hours about Puritans—I’m not kidding, I’ve written papers about them. But, my FAVORITE Puritan topic is the Salem Witch Trials. So many classes have read and analyzed “The Crucible” but little attention is paid to the actual events of 1692. “Salem Possessed” unravels the truth about what happened but it is done in a way that keeps readers interested. This book is a page turner and explores how disturbing and twisted the trials actually were and the impact they had on history. Non-fiction writing can come off as tedious but Boyer and Nissenbaum writing is both engaging and informative.
Warned by the spirit of her dead mother to beware of the Crimson Peak, aspiring writer, Edith has always been an outside. Her life makes a drastic change when she is pursued by Sir Thomas Sharpe. With the mysterious death of her father, Edith is whisked away by her new husband and sister-in-law to their isolated estate. The decaying mansion known for its red clay deposits holds dark secrets that Edith must uncover. The secrets of Crimson Peak lead Edith to discover the horrors of her new family and forces her to fight for her life. (Based on the movie from celebrated director Guillermo del Toro.)
This is a novelization of a movie. However, I wish it had been the other way around. Nancy Holder’s writing brings an intelligence and grace to the ghosts within the plot compared to the movie which leaves you cringing at the bad special effects. This story is twisted and bizarre with a touch of insanity and that is why I love it. I’ve included “Crimson Peak” as an example of how movies can be translated into writing and have more success at developing a plot and ensnaring a reader. This book taught me to look at a particular scene within a film and consider how it could be written and what impact that would have.
Halloween is that particular time when people have the urge to be frightened and what better way to satisfy that craving than with literature? Embrace the creepy this Halloween with these books and short stories. Let us know what you think of them!