I have an October tradition: every Halloween, I choose my favorite horror novels, novellas, and short story collections of the year. This year, I thought I’d share them publicly and ask what books I’ve missed! Some of my picks might not be shelved in your bookstore’s “horror” section, but they creeped the shit out of me nonetheless.
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau
Honestly, this book is a masterclass in tone, atmosphere, and grafting speculative elements onto real-life geography. It’s about an antiquarian bookseller in New York who stumbles upon a hidden world while looking for his missing wife. As a new dad, this story hit close to home, and stands out as one of the most memorable things I’ve read this year, period.
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
by Carmen Maria Machado
I was so happy to see this short story collection make the longlist (and shortlist!) for the National Book Award for fiction. In these eight neo-Gothic tales, a plague ravishes the remnants of America, a wife refuses to remove the ribbon around her neck, and … I could go on, but instead, I’ll just let you read the first story in its entirety over at Granta.
The Grip Of It by Jac Jemc
My favorite haunted house novel since House of Leaves. It’s about a Chicago couple whose new home in rural Wisconsin turns out to be…pretty fucked up. Jac is a Chicago-based author, so I chatted with her about this book on our podcast, Writers Answer Weird Questions (she’s a big fan of Guillermo del Toro and “The Bachelor”). The book was also shortlisted for the 2017 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction.
The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
I have unrealistically high expectations for Jeffrey Ford books, but he manages to meet them every time. Three college students unearth an infant skeleton beneath an abandoned Victorian mansion, and things go downhill from there. There’s also a neat connection to Chicago history: see my interview with Ford to learn more.
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann
Translated by Ross Benjamin
This brisk little novel (just 128 small-format pages) packs an existential wallop. It’s the journal of a writer who’s holed up in an isolated house in the middle of the German alps. About halfway through, Kehlmann pulls a narrative trick I’ve never seen before, and the payoff is incredible.
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Speaking of narrative tricks, the Mountain Goats frontman deploys a few of his own in this Midwestern nightmare set in the darkest corner of Iowa. Our own Amy Brady called it a masterpiece. I enjoyed it even more than Wolf in White Van. Head over to Electric Literature for my interview with Darnielle, where we discuss how he came up with that title.
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Lovecraft-based horror is really hit-or-miss for me, particularly since I think Howard Phillips was a despicable human being. But Kiernan’s brutal little novella has stayed with me all year. It’s like an R-rated episode of The X-Files crossed with True Detective‘s first season.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
by Margaret Killjoy
I know I’ve listed three Tor.com novellas, but listen: this book is about demon deer. DEMON. DEER. What more do you need to know, really? Plus, Tor announced a sequel yesterday.
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Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.