In honor of my favorite holiday, I'd like to share the three horror novels that stay with me long after I finish the last sentence and put them away.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House has the best opening paragraph of any book I have ever read. It immediately sets the mood and gives ominous life to a brick and glass structure:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.Dr. Montague is a paranormal scholar who is studying hauntings. His search for true haunted houses has led him to Hill House, along with three hand-picked guests who have experienced some type of supernatural event in their past. The doctor, Theodora, Luke, and Eleanor—a homeless recluse who has been caring for her invalid mother—plan to spend the summer at the house, but the growing tensions between them and the increasing ghostly activity of the house soon reach a boiling point. Hill House's slow possession of Eleanor alarms everyone, and she is forced to leave for safety reasons. But Eleanor can’t leave, and she makes a drastic split-second decision to remain at Hill House forever. Eleanor needs Hill House as much as Hill House needs Eleanor.
Shirley Jackson is the lady who wrote the classic gothic short story “The Lottery,” in which a town takes population control into its own hands with an annual lottery and stoning. “Lottery in June; corn be heavy soon” an old man reminds the younger folks who might not have the stomach for the tradition.
Off Season by Jack Ketchum
For me, this is the horror book to end all horror books. It is the apex of terror tales. No book has come close to topping Off Season, and I doubt that any ever will.
In a rural area off the coast of Maine live a tribe of cannibals. Over the decades travellers and townspeople have disappeared here, but these have been chalked up to the nature of an increasingly mobile, exploding population. People disappear every minute all over the world, don't they?
The tension begins immediately and never lets up. Six adults—two of them sisters—are vacationing in a cabin. As they eat, sleep, and relax in nature, they are silently being stalked by the cannibal clan, who soon set off an unrelenting assault on the cabin. Before you can say "pass the A1," several have been killed, one has been roasted on a pit, and two of the women have been taken back to the cave. And it's in this cave where we see just how these men, women, and children flourished all these years . You'll be tempted to flip to the last page to see how this book could possibly end. If you managed to make it all the way through, you might want to catch up with the inbreds in Offspring.
This is the book that made Jack Ketchum a legend of the horror genre. It must have been a badge of honor to Ketchum for The Village Voice, of all publications, to criticize this book for its "violent pornography."
Did you know that funny man Mel Brooks has a son named Max Brooks? Did you know that Max Brooks wrote one of the best zombie books ever? I'm here to tell you that zombie is the new vampire, and World War Z is the cream of the zombie genre crop.
We're no strangers to zombies. We've watched them shuffling slowly about with outstretched arms in Night of the Living Dead; we've watched them race faster than a marathoner in 28 Days Later. In World War Z they're back to shuffling, but there are just so darn many of them that's not really a consolation.
The zombie outbreak begins in China with an infected boy. The government tries to keep this under wraps so as not to panic the public. In America during an election year, the outbreak is played down so it won't affect the election. But the outbreak grows and the public does panic. Through attacks, zombies have been created in every small town and big city in every region in every country.
As the title denotes, World War Z is told through interviews with politicians, military personnel, and civilians. The military interviews are the most engaging because they explain in great detail the logistical nightmare of defeating millions of zombies. In the famous Battle of Yonkers, the military discovers just what they're up against. As one soldier explains, the zombie army doesn't have to be fed, clothed, or trained. They are a 24-hour fighting machine. And when a soldier dies, the zombies have a reanimated recruit. Now do you see what they're up against?
There is some comic relief sprinkled throughout the book. One interviewee swears he saw pacifist Michael Stipe of R.E.M. fame blasting away a good many zombies; and a nun is one of the most gung-ho members of the volunteer army.
A movie adaptation is in development by Brad Pitt's production company.
Jack Ketchum's Ferocious Off Season to Finally Become a Film