Modern horror literature can be hard to track down. The publishing market is dominated by psychological thrillers, crime stories and young adult fantasies, following a few already-tired trends. Sometimes it seems fans of macabre novels and stories must look entirely to the past. But there are plenty of artists weaving dark tales from the shadows, if one knows where to look. Here are six bone-chilling novels published within the last fifteen years, all under 300 pages. You can gulp these poisonous morsels down in a single day… if your nerves can take it.
ONE BLOODY THING AFTER ANOTHER by Joey Comeau
A twisted and existential bildungsroman, Joey Comeau’s slim but substantial tale crosses a wide range of the macabre — a grumpy old man who faces a headless ghost in his foyer every day; a teenage girl whose family members are turning into things full of teeth, satiated only by living flesh; and another who can turn invisible when she invokes the ghost of her dead mother. The characters interact with their bizarre, frightening world in resigned frustration — the strange is just a nuisance to them. It’s touching, funny, and totally freakish.
PENPAL by Dathan Auerbach
After his ambiguous, eerie thread on Reddit’s darker side went viral [and made our “Ten Creepiest Creepypastas” list], Dathan Auerbach was inspired to expand his idea into a novel. The result is one of the most viscerally creepy reads I’ve encountered in some time. A man recalls details from his childhood — photos taken by unseen watchers, dreamlike excursions in the woods, and something terrible under the house… His memories culminate in a revelation that is best left unspoiled. This one had me locking the doors and checking my windows for days afterwards.
YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE by Stefan Kiesbye
Paying homage to Shirley Jackson’s mundane weirdness, this pseudo-story collection invites the reader to a small town in Germany where nothing is normal. A group of young children come of age in a place simmering with dark secrets, bursts of violence and sick prejudices. They lie, they betray, they murder — all the while coming to understand the world around them. The atmosphere is deep and spooky, and Kiesbye’s kids are no innocents. This is grotesque fiction at its most unconscious, unsettling and melancholy.
LULLABY by Chuck Palahniuk
Leave it to Palahniuk to write a neo-Gothic story of witchcraft and turn it into a social satire. While he is known for darkly comic novels like FIGHT CLUB and CHOKE, he ventured into horror more than once. This fine example of his dark abilities follows a newspaper reporter who encounters a “culling song,” a poem that kills its listener. As he sets about destroying all copies of the song, the reader is treated to his enlightening views on its power — and its apocalyptic potential. Weird, funny and mind-ruiningly upsetting, this is a unique and deadly morsel.
THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM by Victor LaValle
Do you adore H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, but feel a bit sick about the racism and xenophobia at their core? You’re not alone. Victor LaValle reinvents one of Lovecraft’s most horrendously racist tales, “The Horror at Red Hook,” in a joyously atmospheric novella that reaches cosmic heights of its own. While navigating segregated 1920s New York, a black guitarist and occult dabbler finds himself at the heart of an apocalyptic ritual, which very well may rip open the fabric of time. Revealing and thoroughly entertaining, LaValle gives Lovecraft a run for his money.
WHITE IS FOR WITCHING by Helen Oyeyemi
This surreal, disturbing and eerie novel feels like a millennial answer to THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. Oyeyemi crafts a narrative about grotesque inheritance, a house that devours its inhabitants, and a girl fighting to find her own identity. This is a coming-of-age story in which self acceptance means overcoming monsters. The characters are refreshingly diverse and heart wrenching in their portrayal of otherness; but the real star of this modern Gothic nightmare is Oyeyemi’s mansion, a creation that gives HOUSE OF LEAVES a run for its money.
If you’ve encountered another modern read that’s worth hunting down, leave a comment!