Messed Up Books to Read While Wearing a Mask
Photo by Jonnie Craig
It’s that time of year again when they start putting Halloween movies on TV and I start wondering when it became so hard to write compelling horror. A lot of what comes out now seems too concerned with how easy it would be for someone to utilize CGI on it, or relies heavily on the old horror traditions, which is cool and all I guess but sometimes I’d like to feel fucked up or grossed out for real. Maybe if more people put down the Stephen King and started reading more messed up texts, that’d be a step in a good direction. Anyway, here’s a variety of widely-styled terror books to stick your head into.
The Marbled Swarm by Dennis Cooper
Only Dennis Cooper could make a book this black and twisted feel so pleasant. Cannibalism, people who get off on having their bodies “squished” to a pulp, homes connected by bizarre passageways, and child abductions all pack down into a voice as startlingly charming as Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, though without all that Try To Cure Me fodder. There are few people making fiction as to-the-throat and newfangled as Dennis Cooper right now. Dress as one of his characters for Halloween and disappear.
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
If I had more money I’d buy a bunch of these and stick them in the sacks of kids who look old enough to have gotten hooked on Twilight. This book has vampires, though instead of Robert Pattinson, they like G.G. Allin and stink like BOB from Twin Peaks. Gutter punks and messed up cops and Robo-tripping and VHS tapes full of death, all held together with sentences like, “Every time I breathe out my skin flakes off in a puff of crepe dust, this means my body gets smaller and smaller every time I breathe.”
Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Jealousy is creepy like your mute uncle your mom would never let you hang out with alone. It’s told from the point of view of a man who isn’t active in what’s happening—which is presumably his wife spending too much time away from home with another man—so what becomes eerie is the way things are described, instead of what actually happens. Like Hitchcock on downers and as fucked up as the colors in Tarkovsky, it kind of hangs there in your brain.
Maximum Gaga by Lara Glenum
Poems packed butt-to-butt with grotesqueries like cartoons inside the cartoons you weren’t allowed to watch. There are characters named Minky Momo and the Traumadome, and everything seems on the verge of either exploding or having sex with itself. I feel like Mussolini would have masturbated to this book, mumbling along: “Dribbling figgity / among / cream-slammed oinkers / the Normopath’s piglicker / crushes into ham canyon.”
Mopus by Oisín Curran
One of the most overlooked books of the past ten years, about a guy named Bluebottle searching for his white dog through 24 hours of a shifting nightmare terrain full of ghost-people and deformed air. It’s not so much terrifying as it is haunted, and continuously shaking your expectation of how a story can be told. This one does things with senses you don’t expect a text to, which caused people to keep comparing it to Joyce and Beckett, but really it’s just the kind of machine you need to pick up and eat. The first sentence is: “Start in the dark with the clatter of leaves and two birds talking, invisible flowers bloom.”
The Changeling by Joy Williams
A great pair with the above Mopus, and quite a bit different than Joy Williams’s usual fair, The Changeling follows a drunk woman in a house full of feral children trying to hang on to her mind. As usual, Williams has an uncanny ability to reveal things about a person without getting tangled in tired traps, and here reality is equally carried in that nuance while also fragmented by magic shit in a way no one else can quite elucidate. Fans of Kelly Link and Virginia Woolf should proceed here immediately.
Cows by Matthew Stokoe
This book is full of cow blood and electric prods and big weird blue workers having sex with each other after hours surrounded by machines. The narrator is a guy who lives with his enormous mother who feeds him rotting food until he starts getting more and more pissed and hears the cows telling him to kill. I imagine Lars Von Trier reading this book and not wanting to eat at Burger King anymore. It says bizarre, true things very simply, like, “Nothing could stand in for the ecstasy of becoming another person.”
Windeye by Brian Evenson
All of Brian Evenson’s books could be on this list, from his first fractured, black, biblical collection of little knife-like stories, Altmann’s Tongue, to his recent brain damaged sci-fi novel, Immobility. He cuts horror down to its logical, haunted bones, framing narrative in such a way that it puts you in the head of the text and then blurs it over and over until you aren’t sure where you are. Windeye is his most recent collection, and might be his most mentally fucked up, with stories where body organs have their own intentions and people claw each other to death from miles apart. He’s the best thing going in modern horror, period.
Electric Flesh by Claro
A novel translated from the French by Brian Evenson, Claro’s Electric Flesh is explodingly bizarre, about a man who believes he’s descended from Houdini and travels around doing fucked up performances with locks and weird animals and electricity all throughout his body. From the very first page, Claro establishes himself as fearless in style, and parades the reader through a series of precise narrative phantasm-like contraptions just as exciting as the buzzing in the bodies on the paper. This goes hard and far and doesn’t look back for a second.
The Complete Butcher’s Tales by Rikki Ducornet
This thing is pretty much like the Mütter Museum on paper, crammed with several dozen tiny stories absorbing mutilation, asylums, insane clothes, lumpy beds, Sacred Books, Borges-like languages, decapitation, and all other manner of the strange. Ducornet is pretty much unparalleled in weaving such a range of fetish ideas into little bizarre museums that somehow wrap themselves together into the kind of shit strange senile grandmothers might tell you if they spoke once they were dead.
Twilight by William Gay
This man’s last book got fucked over by the shitty vampire series and then he died. He was like Cormac McCarthy but actually from the woods. Look up a picture of his head. He probably ate with rusty silverware. He was amazing. It sucks that he’s dead. This one is about a perverted undertaker doing whatever he wants with the bodies in a small town where there’s no one else to bury them and they’re all surrounded by woods and people are fucked up on chemicals and trying to figure out who is buried where. It makes you want to live a while or something.
Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont
The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting
The Melancholy of Anatomy by Shelley Jackson
Waste by Eugene Marten
Strange Landscape by Tony Duvert
Ghost Town by Robert Coover
Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter
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