“Bunny” by Mona Awad
Samantha is in an elite MFA prose program, and the other young women in her cohort are in a clique. She hates them so much that she calls them a portmanteau of an explicative beginning with the letter “c” and “escapades” and refers to them with pejorative, yet playful, monikers in place of their real names – at least in her internal monologue. Awad claims Samantha is “not an unreliable narrator,” but fans think otherwise. Honestly, this novel achieves what the movie “Jennifer’s Body” could not. It’s comedy, dark academia, magical realism and metafiction. And it’s super weird.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid
Plot-wise, it is difficult to describe exactly what occurs in this novel, as almost anything could be a potential spoiler. There is one scene at the beginning about the metaphysical nature of a plant, which sends you, the reader, on a journey that makes you question your sense of reality. The subgenre of horror it falls into is “psychological,” and there is little-to-no gore, but it is absolutely terrifying. Based on the novel’s content, I have no idea how it was conceivably possible for Netflix to execute the movie adaptation.
“Uzumaki” by Junji Ito
Picking a favorite Junji Ito manga is like picking a favorite child, but for the sake of this article, let’s highlight “Uzumaki.” It investigates the question: How can spirals be scary? Spirals are haunting the town of Kurouzo-cho. A simple, seemingly innocuous visual pattern becomes unsettling when it causes Shuichi’s parents’ mental health to, well, take a downward spiral. Each chapter explores the different ways spirals can unnaturally manipulate the body, leaving gory images.
“The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” by Stephen King
Nine-year-old Trisha gets lost in the woods, alone, with just her Walkman and backpack. Most of the story is just her, without interaction with any other characters, however, she does tell her mother and her brother Pete, at the beginning, that she has to walk off of the trail ”to pee,” which is the catalyst for the rest of the plot. King brings insight to Trisha’s thoughts and fears about her surroundings, interspersed with memories from before she got lost and her reflections on them.
“My Heart Is a Chainsaw” by Stephen Graham Jones
In this novel, it is easy to tell that Jones is an academic, but he’s not pretentious about it. His analyses of the slasher genre, filtered through the protagonist, Jade, are woven seamlessly into the plot. Jade is obsessed with slasher movies so much so that she hopes to actually be in one…until that is exactly what happens in her town of Proofrock, Idaho. As Jade is unraveling the mystery of who the killer is, Letha transfers to Jade’s high school at the end of senior year. Jade is convinced Letha must be the final girl, the conventionally attractive last survivor of a slasher who must kill the killer. As the plot of this work of metafiction ensues, you might question Jade’s mental stability and whether any of her beliefs about Proofrock being in a slasher are founded. However, this skepticism and uncertainty only adds to the anxiety that propels the tension of the book’s psychological aspect.
Honorable mentions (books that were so disturbing that I had to stop reading them, but I want to pick up again):
- “The Troop” by Nick Cutter: This book was so gross that it inspired revulsion in me. The descriptions, adjectives and imagery made me unable to eat the cantaloupe in my fridge for several days.
- “The Thief of Always” by Clive Barker: I know this book is for children, but I was roughly 15 when I attempted to read it, and it negatively impacted my sleep schedule. Something about the manipulation of time.
- “Desperation” by Stephen King: When one of the characters is killed off, they are described as looking like they were sleeping. This made me paranoid for at least several months, to the point where I would neurotically check to ensure every sleeping person I saw wasn’t actually dead.