Here are two novels I recently finished that are well worth your attention. (Indeed, if I had read them in time, I would have included them in the year’s best writeup I published in Locus recently.)
Emily Danforth’s Plain Bad Heroines was recommended to me by Paul Tremblay when he read it for a blurb last year. His recommendation was spot on. It’s a great big book, full of multiple points of view, multiple timelines, bees, footnotes, and cool illustrations. Every time I hear the adjective big applied to a horror novel, I think of the doorstoppers of the 1980s, but while Danforth does make reference to Straub’s Ghost Story, the vibe here seems to me much more postmodern, playful–which is not to say the book doesn’t have plenty of creepy moments, and plot twists, and a couple of endings I’m still turning over in my head. Reading it is the kind of immersive experience that drew me to horror in the first place.
I saw a number of writers I trust mentioning Jo Kaplan’s It Will Just Be Us a couple of months ago on social media, so I ordered a copy. In comparison to Plain Bad Heroines, it’s a slender book, but one Kaplan packs with a maximum of character and incident. There’s a haunted house–which is another way of saying it’s a place where images from the past flicker in and out of view, some momentarily, others for longer. To the women who live in this house, on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the house’s manifestations are not usually frightening–though the tendency of its rooms to meander, for new hallways to lead to new parts of the house, can be disorienting. There’s plenty of history for the house to display, from those of its current residents to those who have called it home in the past. There’s also a room that has remained closed, and whose key seems to have disappeared. And then a family member returns to the house, split from her husband and hugely pregnant, and things get worse. Jo Kaplan is a terrific stylist; there is prose in these pages that is as good as any you’re likely to find being written right now. There are plenty of disquieting images, too, the kinds of things that make you decide you had better read another couple of pages, so you don’t go to sleep with that picture in your mind’s eye. Best of all (from my perspective), this is an unabashed horror novel. As the end drew nearer, I kept wondering how and if the narrative was going to evade the conclusion it seemed to be racing toward–only to find that it didn’t, it went all the way to the terrible end and beyond. The result was a darkly splendid delight.
So if you’re looking for a couple of examples of contemporary horror writing at its finest, may I recommend each of these?