Monday, April 12, 2010


For my next book, I've been toying with the idea of writing something completely different, like a horror novel. I grew up reading horror books, but I've steered away from them over the past decade or so. I'm not sure why. I guess because so few of them are actually scary.

Last week I read one of the most disturbing books ever, Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. It's about a group of suburban kids who, over several months, torture, sexually abuse and ultimately kill a young girl. They do this under the direction of their mother, while other neighborhood kids watch and participate. It's even more disturbing when you realize it's based on a true story.

I started thinking about other books that have truly disturbed me. Considering how many "scary" books I've read in my life, the list was surprisingly short. Here are six more of my most disturbing books:

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: Super-disturbing, but also kind of funny. The genius of books like The Girl Next Door (and one of my other favorites, Scott Smith's A Simple Plan) is that the author somehow makes the reader complicit in the events, and escalates them in a way that you could almost -- almost -- see how such a thing could happen. In American Psycho, however, the guy's just insane.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk: Just read the first short story, "Guts." One of the only stories I can think of where I felt physically ill while reading it.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: I read this about 20 years ago and it scared the hell out of me. I don't know if it would still be scary if I read it today, but I remember waking up at 3:15 a.m. a few times (like the guy in the book) and wondering if the evil had leaked out of the book somehow.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: Follows a band of outlaws hired to hunt Indians. Perhaps the most violent book I've ever read, but also one of the most beautiful.

Blindness by Jose Saramago: A city is hit by an epidemic of sudden blindness. What follows shows us the best and worst of humanity. This is another example of how, despite the horrors you're witnessing, the author escalates it in such a way that you can almost see how it could get to that point.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King: I had to include one Stephen King novel. Supposedly this is the one story that the master of horror was, for a time, too scared to finish. Much of my memory of the book is colored by the equally creepy movie, but I still consider this to be King's most disturbing book.

What's the most disturbing book you've ever read?


  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns. The physical abuse against the women made me sick to my stomach--especially when the husband made the wife chews rocks for making bad rice. Bloody molars. Can't get the scene out of my head.

  2. A Child Called It. It is unbelievable that any parent would actually do these things to their kid. The book made me ill, yet I kept reading. So sad.

  3. This was made into a movie called An American Crime starring Ellen Page and Catherine Keener. It was probably the most disturbing MOVIE I've ever seen. The ending in itself is just so sad.

  4. I can't read horror stories anymore. I used to read them back in the day, but that was when I was naive and full of innocence. Now, I would prefer to read heartwarming stories or stories of someone overcoming adversity. The world is too full of horror on the daily news to want to indulge in pleasure reading of more horror.

  5. I agree with D-Mason. Why waste time reading about disturbed people doing horrible things to others? Sorry, Brian, but I'm disappointed you'd consider this genre for your next project.

  6. Okay, no horror stories for the Masons. Meanwhile, I get a text from my mom asking me to send her The Girl Next Door; she can't wait to read it! And you wonder where I got my weird imagination...

  7. I can't say that I've ever read a horror book. The only horror movie I ever saw on the big screen was Pet Cemetery. I'll never forget the cut achilles scene... My most memorable horror moment was getting to meet the editing team for Hostel 2 in action. Horror movies aren't so scary after you seen the blood squirting tube get edited out...

  8. Yeah, that severed achilles tendon scene still haunts me!