Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Thinking Again Guide to Modern and Contemporary Horror Fiction (1900-present)

Works on this list include literature with genuinely frightening or disturbing horror elements as well as genre works with some level of literary value, if only a powerful emotional effect. That is, in one way or another, all these are works of horror with significant merit as works of literature, to my mind.

This list is still in progress, so please help me add to it. Works of significant quality only, please–I understand the vagueness of the term “quality,” so using your own standards is fine. I’m hoping other people will have some good suggestions for me. As you can see, I’ve read a lot of this sort of thing, and I’m always worried I’m about to run out.

Robert Aickman, The Wine Dark Sea (1988) or any other collection
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1937)
Eric Basso, The Beak Doctor: Short Fiction 1972-76
Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles (1967)
Algernon Blackwood, “The Willows” (1907), “Ancient Sorceries” (1908)
Paul Bowles, The Delicate Prey (1950)
Mary Butts, From Alter to Chimney-Piece: Selected Stories of Mary Butts (1992)–stories originally published between 1922 and 1937
Ramsey Campbell, The Face That Must Die (1979)
Walter De La Mare, The Return (1922)
Stephen Dobyns, The Church of Dead Girls (1997)
Guy Endore, The Werewolf of Paris (1933)
Brian Evenson, Dark Property (1995)
Dennis Etchison, The Dark Country (1982)
Thomas Harris, Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
John Hawkes, The Beetle Leg (1951), Travesty (1976)
Susan Hill, The Woman in Black (1983)
Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle,” (1903), “The Jolly Corner” (1908)
M.R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), or Collected Ghost Stories (1931).
T.E.D. Klein, The Ceremonies (1984)
Tanith Lee, Dark Dance (1992)
Tommaso Landolfi, An Autumn Story (1975)
Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife (1943), Our Lady of Darkness (1978)
Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1989); those stories and others also in The Nightmare Factory (1996)
H.P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls” (1922), The Dunwich Horror” (1928), “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936)
Arthur Machen, “The White People” (1904)
Robert Marasco, Burnt Offerings (1973)
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954)
Patrick McGrath, Spider (1990)
Gustav Meyrink, The Golem (1928)
David Morrell, The Totem (1979)
Oliver Onions, Widdershins (1911)
Victor Pelevin, “The News from Napal” in The Blue Lantern (1994)
Jean Ray, Malpertuis (1943)
Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur (1955), Jealousy (1958)
Dan Simmons, Song of Kali (1985)
Peter Straub, If You Could See Me Now (1977)
Whiltey Streiber, The Wolfen (1978)
Theodore Sturgeon, Some of Your Blood (1956)
Roland Topor, The Tenant (1964)
Wilfrid Sheed, The Blacking Factory & Pennsylvania Gothic (1968)
Dirik Van Sickle, Montana Gothic (1979)
Patrik Suskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (1986)
H. Russell Wakefield, The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield (1978)–stories first published mainly between 1928 and 1935
Paul West, The Women of Whitechappel and Jack the Ripper (1992)
Edith Wharton, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (1973)–stories first published between 1909 and 1937
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Collected Ghost Stories (1974)–most stories first published between 1903 and 1927)


Stan Apps said...

Rachel Pollack is a remarkable writer of literary horror/fantasy. Her best two books are set in the same fictional "world", and are Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency. They are both quite scary--perhaps Temporary Agency is scarier (but they are a series so I suspect it's better to read Temporary Agency second--there are no characters in common, but Unquenchable Fire teaches one the parameters of the world where Temporary Agency takes place).

The world of these novels is, roughly, one where witches overthrew the US government in a revolution not unlike the Iranian revolution.

Dan / Daniel Gutstein said...

Glad that you included Pelevin and Shirley Jackson -- two I would recommend. I think you should also consider James Baldwin's "Going to Meet the Man." It's not supernatural exactly, but it's pretty damn tough of a story.

There's a Russian story I read -- in a hardcover anthology -- maybe even from two centuries ago, I don't remember, about a war, maybe a retreat, where pits had been dug, and people had impaled themselves on sharpened sticks, the newest victim forcing the body of the previous victim farther down on the stick. I've never forgotten that image -- it's brutal, and incredibly well-rendered, though I have forgotten, durn it, the author's name.

Another possibility is Jose Saramago's BLINDNESS, for sure.


mark wallace said...

Thanks for these comments.

I don't know Pollack's work, but I'll definitely look into it.

I think by the time the reader gets to that final twist in the Pelevin story, it becomes one of the best pieces of short horror fiction I've read in a long time.

"Going To Meet The Man" is a great story, and it certainly gives a feeling of horror. But it and many similar other works deal in a more or less realist framework with political oppression of various sorts: racism etc. Undoubtedly horrifying, but to some extent a different thing. Horror literature tends to take on issues through a layer of symbol and metaphor. Not that it can't handle politics, because it does. Just that the difference, say, between the films "Mississippi Burning" and "Night of the Living Dead" is not their indictments of white racism, but that in the Living Dead you've got, you know, zombies.

David Michael Wolach said...

Hi Mark,

Good list. A couple potential additions. Tom Whalen's "Dolls," (Caketrain Press) & forgive me for not remembering the author, but in translation from the German, I believe, the novel "Shadowlife." If you--or someone--can help me remember who wrote the latter, that would be good, as I lost my copy. Not a great novel, but not a bad one either. Better than Perfume, I think. As for Dolls, certainly not traditional horror, but it scared the cap out of me.

Dan / Daniel Gutstein said...

I would totally agree with you about Baldwin if not for the final image of the corpse -- it's reminiscent of (or vice versa) those American contractors who were killed, burned, dragged in front of the film crews in Iraq. The same kind of corpse, if I can say that. "The Lottery" is certainly a bit less realistic than "Going to Meet the Man," but there aren't any zombies there either. DG

mark wallace said...

Dan, I think I probably agree with your point here. Once the body becomes symbolic, removed from human identity etc and redeployed as a thing (with a specific history implied of course), then it takes on a kind of ritual aspect that moves the work from realism into horror. Paul Bowles "A Distant Episode" might be understood in this way too. But of course in comparison to Bowles, Baldwin's story is much more directly political horror.