Tagged: chuck palahniuk Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , bentley little, bird box, blindness, , carrion comfort, chuck palahniuk, , , dathan auerbach, dawn, , exquisite corpose, , ghost story, , hell house, , , , jack ketchum, jose saramago, josh malarian, koji suzuki, lionel shriver, , , , , , penal, , peter straub, poppy z. brite, ramsey campbell, , richard matheson, ring, rosemary’s baby, scott smith, , something wicked this way comes, , the face that must die, the girl next door, , the ruins, the walking, , , we need to talk about kevin,   

    25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever 

    Literature can be a moving, beautiful artistic experience. Skilled writers can bring us face to face with scenarios and emotions we might never encounter in real life, expanding our understanding of both the universe and our fellow man.

    It can also scare the living daylights out of us. Horror novels don’t always get the respect they deserve; just because something is scary doesn’t mean it’s not “literary” or well-crafted art, but if the core purpose of a story is perceived to be “making you soil yourself in fear” for some reason that story won’t get much respect. Of course, a story can be terrifying without necessarily being great art. If your goal is to be so terrified of a book that you put it in the freezer and book a hotel room for a few days, here are twenty-five books that might not necessarily be the best horror novels, but are certainly the scariest.

    Literally Everything Edgar Allan Poe Wrote
    Poe had a knack for infusing everything he wrote with visceral dread. His characters and narrators tend towards the mentally fragile and the insane, people who are haunted by things that might be literal or might be manifestations of their unsound thought processes. Either way, stories like The Tell-Tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado retain their power to petrify more than a century-and-a-half after their publication because Poe tapped into the fundamental fear we all have that the world and people around us are not what they seem.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
    Put simply, House of Leaves is one of the most frightening books ever written. From a fairly standard horror premise (a house is revealed to be slightly larger on the inside than is strictly possible) Danielewski spins out a dizzying tale involving multiple unreliable narrators, typographic mysteries, and looping footnotes that manage to drag the reader into the story and then make them doubt their own perception of that story. It’s a trick no one else has managed to such dramatic effect, making this novel more of a participatory experience than any other work of literature—which, considering the dark madness at its core, isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience.

    Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
    The film adaptation has supplanted the novel in pop culture, but the novel was a huge hit for Levin—and the film actually sticks to the plot and dialog so closely you really do get a feel for the novel from watching it. The story of a young woman who becomes pregnant after a nightmare gets its terror not from the well-known twist of the baby’s parentage (hint: not her husband), but from the increasing isolation Rosemary experiences as her suspicions about everyone around her grow. So many threads tie into the terror, from the emotional and economic uncertainty of a struggling young couple to the simple fear any mother has for their child, all expertly knotted into a story that will keep you awake at night.

    The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
    When you think about clichés in horror fiction, the haunted house is at the top of the list, an idea done so often it’s frequently an unintentional parody. Shirley Jackson, however, was no ordinary writer, and she takes the concept of the haunted house and perfects it. The Haunting of Hill House is simply the best haunted house story ever written. The scares come not just from the malevolent actions of a house that seems sentient and angry, but from the claustrophobia we experience from the novel’s unreliable narrator, Eleanor, whose descent into madness is slow and excruciating and only begins after we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming relatability of her early persona.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    The great sage Pat Benatar once sang that hell is for children. Golding’s account of children stranded on an island without supplies or adult supervision is absolutely terrifying for one simple reason: there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about insufficiently socialized humans descending into savagery because that’s our fundamental nature. You look into the abyss at the center of this novel and the abyss looks back.

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
    Another story centered on the terror of children, the horror inherent in this story comes from the fact that the human beings we create eventually become their own people—and possibly strangers to us. Not everyone has a close and loving relationship with their parents, and while the idea that your own kids might grow up to be criminals isn’t pleasant, most people assume they will at least recognize themselves in their kids. But what if you don’t? What if your child—your child—is a blank monster?

    Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
    In the Internet Age it’s pretty easy to fall down a rabbit hole of pop culture obsession, and there are still dark areas of culture that haven’t had a wiki created around them. Pessl’s story about a mysterious underground filmmaker whose movies may or may not contain hints of dark power and horrific events and the journalist who becomes obsessed with him asks the reader how you can be certain there’s a clear line between fact and fiction, then, once that wedge of doubt is established, presents a terrifying fiction to fill that space.

    Ring, by Kōji Suzuki
    The novel that inspired the horror films of the same name, the premise is well-known: anyone who watches a mysterious videotape of creepy images is informed that they will die in seven days—and then they die. The investigation into the tape and how to avoid this grim fate leads to what remains an incredibly shocking backstory involving rape, smallpox, and a forgotten well. Technology has shifted, but the terror never really relied on VHS tapes—it’s the concept that ideas can be deadly, that simply by experiencing something you can be doomed, that’s so horrifying.

    Penpal, by Dathan Auerbach
    Pivoting on the idea that we’re often blinded by the details we can see, making it impossible to see the bigger picture, Auerbach’s debut began life as a series of creepypasta stories on the Internet. The episodic nature of the story is ideal for the effect he achieves; the narrator tells of being a young boy and sending a penpal request attached to a balloon with his classmates, including his best friend Josh. He doesn’t receive a response until nearly a year later, and his life takes a turn for the bizarre shortly afterwards. A series of tragic and strange things happen to him and everyone around him, building a sense of dread that is only increased when the truth is revealed.

    Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
    Simmons’ novel follows several groups of people who have The Ability, a psychic power that allows them to take control of others from a distance and force them to perform any action. When one of their puppets murders someone, the person with The Ability is invigorated and strengthened. Simmons doesn’t shy away from the implications of this power on history and the future, and the book will destroy any sense of security you have in the world around you, revealed to possibly be simply a worldwide board game for those who can control us all like pawns.

    Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
    Several of King’s books could be on this list, but he frequently blunts the terror of his stories with the richness and humanity of his characterizations and the sprawl of his narratives. Pet Sematary manages to be his most terrifying novel by dint of its simple, devastating concept: a magical cemetery where buried things come back to a sort-of life—but aren’t quite what they once were. From that simple idea King ramps up to a climax that gets under your skin in a fundamental way most horror stories fail to.

    The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum
    Horror often pivots on the corruption or warping of societal norms and rules; once you feel like you can’t rely on the natural social order, literally anything is possible. Ketchum’s disturbing novel about the unimaginable abuse suffered by two sisters when they are forced to live with their mentally unstable aunt and her three savage sons is based on real events, but it’s the central theme of an adult giving official sanction to the atrocities that makes this story so utterly horrifying.

    Blindness, by Jose Saramago
    Helplessness is a key factor in a lot of horror; most people labor under the delusion that they are in charge of their destiny and their lives, and horror is often effective simply by reminding us how little control we actually have. An epidemic of blindness leaves an entire city’s population secluded in a mental institution as society within and without crumbles. The brutality and descent into animalistic madness is all too realistic, and Saramago manages to capture the terrifying confusion and helplessness experienced by people in a society that no longer functions.

    Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
    McCarthy’s entire writing style and technique is terrifying; the man could write a grocery list that leaves the reader dripping with dread. This tale of extreme, ruthless, and pervasive violence in the American west emerges from under a sheen of the unreal to become all too real, and the greatest trick McCarthy manages here is by making the single most terrifying aspect of the story—the main character’s death—the one act of brutality he doesn’t depict, leaving the terrors contained within that scene to our imagination—which is infinitely worse than anything he might have conjured.

    Exquisite Corpse, by Poppy Z. Brite
    Brite’s most famous novel follows two serial killers who initially aim to kill each other but, upon discovering a fellow traveler, instead engage in a spree of horrific sex and murder. The matter-of-fact way the pair concocts a plan to kidnap, torture, and then consume a beautiful gay man named Tran is the sort of stuff that could simply be shocking, but Brite continuously considers the value of existence and what we could all be doing with the time we have left—time we too often imagine to be infinite when, of course, we’re all going to be consumed someday by something.

    Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
    Bradbury’s epic rumination on childhood and adulthood tells the story of a magical circus come to a small town, offering the residents dark gifts they weren’t aware they wanted—most notably the carousel that can change your physical age, making boys who yearn to be adults grow older, and middle-aged men and women who yearn for their lost youth to grow younger. Bradbury knows the worst horror in the world is losing the natural order of your life, and perfectly captures the combination of dread and excitement everyone experiences as they crack the mysteries separating them from adulthood.

    Hell House, by Richard Matheson
    What Matheson taps into in this classic haunted house story is the universal fear that we are already lost, already broken. Hired to investigate the existence of an afterlife by exploring the notoriously haunted Belasco House, a team moves in and slowly succumbs to the influence of the entity within—an entity that only uses their own weaknesses and secret shames against them. Their descent into the depths of horror is too close for comfort as a result—for everyone reading the book knows all too well that they have weaknesses, and secret shames, as well.

    The Face That Must Die, by Ramsey Campbell
    Campbell wrote a number of books that are absolutely terrifying, but this one stands out in the way he forces the reader to completely inhabit the mind of a very sick man, Horridge. As he fixates on an overweight man living in his neighborhood, the reader is forced to see the world consistently through his eyes. Everything is off-beat, everything drips with ominous meaning and horrific intent. Horridge sees the entire world as a horror that must be destroyed, and for a while the reader is carried along on that uncomfortable point of view, leaving them exhausted and terrified.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Told in alternating chapters that depict a group of aspiring writers voluntarily secluded in an unusual writer’s retreat and the stories they’re writing, Haunted not only contains one of the most disturbing short stories ever published (“Guts,” which caused several people to faint when Palahniuk read it in public) it’s also a deep dive into madness as the reality-TV obsessed characters start sabotaging their experiment in a quest for fame. The sense of suffocating dread that Palahniuk applies grows so incrementally you don’t notice it until you suddenly realize you’ve been holding your breath for five pages.

    Dawn, by Octavia Butler
    Although technically science fiction, this story of the human race centuries after a devastating apocalypse is straight terror in many ways. Lilith is one of the last surviving humans, awakened on an alien ship. The aliens, three-sexed and many-tentacled, offer Lilith a deal: they will help her repopulated the Earth, but their price is to breed with humanity to gain humanity’s “talent” for cancer (and the creative possibilities it offers) while blunting their self-destructive tendencies. The horror imbued in each page is subtle, but it exerts tremendous mental pressure as you progress through the story.

    The Walking, by Bentley Little
    Far from just another tale of zombies, Little’s story of a man whose father rises from death after a stroke sizzles with a sense of doom long before the reader understands what’s at stake. Discovering that many families are hiding zombie relatives, and have been for some time, private investigator Miles Huerdeen digs into the mystery—and what he finds is easily the scariest stuff about zombies you’ll ever read. If you watch zombie movies and shows and laugh at their shuffling, mindless threat, this book will change your mind.

    The Ruins, by Scott Smith
    Smith’s story is deceptively simple: a group of tourists in Mexico go off in search of an archaeological site where a friend has set up camp; they find a pyramid covered in odd vines, the land around it salted and barren. Once on the pyramid, they discover the dead body of their friend, covered in the vines, and that the nearby villagers have arrived with guns to force them to remain on the pyramid. The vines are one of those simple monsters that seem so easy to defeat at first blush, yet the inexorable doom that descends on the characters slowly, grindingly proves otherwise.

    Bird Box, by Josh Malerman
    Malerman’s intense story of a world that slowly crumbles as people go murderously insane after seeing mysterious creatures—referred to simply as The Problem—is so scary because the reader only has the information that the characters have, and that’s not much. The world collapses and the survivors can only seal themselves off from the outside and try to avoid the worst, leading to a torturous wearing down of hope that leaves the reader defenseless against the horrible images Malerman conjures.

    Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
    A good old-fashioned ghost story is designed to terrify and entertain, and Straub’s breakthrough novel does both. Five old friends gather regularly to trade ghost stories, but when one of them dies mysteriously and the survivors begin to dream of their own deaths, a secret from their past is revealed—and the simple pleasures of a ghost story are explored to their most frightening ends by a master of the form.

    Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    If you don’t think of Beloved as a horror story, you haven’t been paying attention. Morrison’s skill as a writer is in full effect as she draws the reader into what is assuredly one of the saddest and most horrifying stories committed to paper. There’s no more terrifying sequence than the long slide into madness as escaped slave Sethe, convinced the young woman calling herself Beloved is the daughter she murdered in an attempt to keep her safe from slavers come to reclaim them, grows steadily thinner and weaker as she gives everything she has—including food—to Beloved, who grows steadily larger.

    Did we leave off any truly terrifying books? Let us know in the comments.

    The post 25 of the Most TERRIFYING Horror Books Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , chuck palahniuk, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , chuck palahniuk, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2015/09/07 Permalink
    Tags: chuck palahniuk, , , rethinking   

    Today’s Most Under-Appreciated Writer: Chuck Palahniuk 

    People are troubled by Chuck Palahniuk.

    Go ahead, Google him. What you’ll find are a multitude of discussions about the Fight Club author exposing a serious divide: people either love him or hate him. They either think he trades in the gross and the shocking, using jagged prose to hit readers over the head; or he’s a visionary who finds brilliance in the unclean gutters of the modern world. The New York Times recently said of him, “Palahniuk is a novelist of ideas, I suppose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good ones,” which is, if you think about it, an extraordinary way for The New York Times to begin a book review.

    No one’s arguing that Palahniuk’s not successful or popular: his books sell and have been adapted into other formats, and even some folks who label him as a gonzo shock artist typically name-check Fight Club as a movie they love. But when it comes to the actual quality of Palahniuk’s writing there are plenty of detractors. When Damned came out a few years ago, GQ ran an article titled “The Seven Worst Sentences From the New Novel, Damned.” More than a decade ago, Salon’s Laura Miller greeted Palahniuk’s 2003 novel Diary with an angry introduction parodying his style and a line-by-line critique of some perceived errors in that and earlier books.

    The hate, it burns. And yet, we will stand here right now and say it plainly: not only is Chuck Palahniuk an underrated writer, he’s actually one of the best writers of his generation. His recent collection of short stories, Make Something Up, proves that he’s a better stylist and a more coherent plotter than his detractors give him credit for. What throws many, in fact, is his unique (some would say idiosyncratic) style, which is easily misinterpreted as lazy in its minimalism, and the fact that he often employs it in the service of unappealing imagery, unlikable characters, and unbelievable situations. But where a writer like Pynchon or even Stephen King explores unsavory and often implausible stories by piling on pages of description, Palahniuk leaves that to his reader. He keeps it simple, and that makes the awfulness of his subjects and characters stand out much more. His style isn’t minimalist because he’s a careless hack (although he has admitted to writing at least one of his novels in ten days flat), but because it’s part of a complex strategy he employs to attain a specific reaction. He employs three main weapons used to keep the reader off-balance and achieve surprising complexity with an economy of words.

    I Am Joe’s Repetition of Phrases

    Repetition is a word that often comes with negative baggage. If something is repetitious, it is understood to be boring: returning to the same ideas and tricks over and over again. It’s true that in a lot of bad writing employs repetitious phrasing and dialog.

    Palahniuk’s work is often tagged as repetitious. And it is repetitious, but not in the way his detractors believe. Just because a phrase or construction or image is used over and over again doesn’t mean it’s the author not bothering to do the hard work of coming up with a “fresh” way to say something; repetition can also be used to establish a rhythm, to cement a concept or image in the reader’s mind, or to link two otherwise disparate aspects of the novel together, if only subconsciously. When the phrase “I am Joe’s Prostate” shows up early in Fight Club, it’s one of many examples of the bland, corporate-controlled universe the unnamed Narrator is living in—the phrase comes from Reader’s Digest, after all, a periodical not only overwhelmingly conservative but also targeted at people for whom reading is a chore they must “condense.”

    When the phrase is echoed later, over and over again (as in, “I am Joe’s Inflamed Flaring Nostrils”) some find it to be an annoying tic, precisely the sort of coal-black deadpanning that high school students and hipsters fall in love with—one of those phrases that sounds meaningful but really isn’t.

    But it also connects that bland corporate world to the Narrator’s new existence as he descends into what is revealed to be (spoiler alert for a 20-year-old novel) mental illness and paranoid delusion so intense, it’s basically a superpower. It could be interpreted, in fact, as a clue to the Narrator’s new existence: where once corporate America dictated what the Narrator thought and read, now his imaginary-friend-cum-split-personality Tyler Durden is doing the same. The vocabulary shifts, but the phrasing and construction are the same, and it’s repetition makes us wonder if anything has actually changed.

    And again, the phrasing is cool. Not many authors manage to cook up bits that are as endlessly quotable and malleable while they also do hard work in the narrative.

    The Burnt Tongue

    Palahniuk has talked about his style and his influences in interviews and in formal writing seminars, and one of the key things he discusses is his use of the “burnt tongue,” a purposeful mangling of phrasing and sentence structure to create awkward, stumbling phrases most readers find difficult to parse. This is done to slow down the reader and force them to actually think through the words. The strategy is designed like prose speed bumps: you have to feel every word.

    Let’s take a sentence from Palahniuk’s 1999 novel, Survivor: “Today is just one of those days the sun comes out to really humiliate you.” At first glance it’s just a sentence with a neat little poetry to it, assigning agency to the sun and efficiently communicating a mood. When you read it, though, it’s kind of clunky: the repetition of “day” is a stumbling block, and the insertion of “really” is unnecessary and kind of ugly. Read it fast and it all goes haywire—you skim over it and get no meaning from it. You have to go back and parse it a little more carefully.

    Or this sentence from Haunted: “Her dress, swimsuit-tight, leotard-tight, her pantyhose run with women pedaling bicycles going nowhere at a thousand calories an hour.” To be fair, in the context of the book this line is from a poem, so some of its clunky complexity can be attributed to a bad poet reaching for gravity, but it’s still a line that slows you down. The second comparison is unnecessary (“swimsuit-tight” is a perfectly effective image) and that last phrase is almost impossible to parse on first glance. Palahniuk knows that readers have a tendency to skim, to push quickly through parts of a story that aren’t exciting, and he throws these ugly sentences at you to slow you down.

    The Neutral Tone

    Another complaint about Palahniuk’s writing is that the “Voice” is flat. This sometimes extends to the characters being very similarly presented between books, or as far as claiming his books all sound the same. But the neutral tone is purposeful: Palahniuk is seeking to present his characters without judgment. He calls this the “recording Angel,” which endeavors to describe to the reader what’s happening and what characters are thinking without passing judgment on them. It’s sort of like the journalistic approach: report the facts, and let the reader decide what they mean.

    This allows Palahniuk to present all of his unsavory characters and their frequently horrifying behavior while maintaining a distance that forces the reader to consider them without recourse to an opinion about the author. If Palahniuk implied an opinion about the things he presents in his books, it would be a simple matter to dismiss him as a sensationalist, or, perhaps a creep working through his own issues or obsessions. But the distance he employs via the flat tone of the writing means readers can’t do that. They must come up with their own conclusions. If they enjoy or are repulsed by what they’re reading, they have to own it as their own opinion, without blaming the author.

    Palahniuk employs repetition in the service of recalling the unsavory actions and thoughts of his characters, which, combined with the lack of judgment, forces readers to confront their own reactions instead of taking sides with either the authorial voice or the narrative voices of the characters. He doesn’tt hint at how you’re supposed to feel about a man who dies after eating several full freeze-dried meals that then expand in his stomach, causing him to burst. He simply reports the series of events that lead to this horrible image, and then stands there mutely tapping his finger on the scene until you make up your mind.

    The Ugly

    It’s a good moment to note that the argument here is not that you should enjoy Palahniuk’s spectacles of absurdity and awfulness. It’s perfectly legitimate to decide you don’t need to read about another dysfunctional weirdo in a joyless mirror universe who has special skills he proceeds to apply in disturbing ways. You don’t have to enjoy Palahniuk’s work in the same way you don’t have to enjoy reading horror novels if you’d rather not.

    The argument is that Palahniuk is an artist, and a subtle one at that. The “all singing, all dancing crap of the world” he utilizes isn’t artless shock, it’s a refined approach to telling stories that has evolved into something not only powerful, but uniquely his, much in the way Hemingway’s style is instantly recognizable.

    This is the perfect time to view Palahniuk in a new light. Pick up a copy of Make Something Up and read it with an open mind, and see how he uses these techniques even in his shorter work. It’s a chance to examine an evolving artist in real time, and to see past a surface skin of grotesquery and appreciate the style beneath.

     
  • Ella Cosmo 3:30 pm on 2015/07/02 Permalink
    Tags: , be afraid, chuck palahniuk, , , , lullaby, , scarlett thomas   

    5 Fictional Books Too Dangerous To Read 

    Literature is powerful: books have inspired revolutions and renaissances, toppled kingdoms and changed the course of human existence. But books themselves aren’t dangerous—that is, unless you’re talking about any of the fictional books-within-a-book below. From the simply malicious to the deeply malevolent, all of them are definitely dangerous, and sometimes even deadly.

    The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers
    On its surface, Chambers’s The King in Yellow is simply a collection of eerie short stories. But fans of the supernatural know this cult classic is far more Heart of Darkness than The Gift of the Magi. Each story is loosely connected by variations to a darkly terrifying fictional play entitled The King in Yellow. Wisely, Chambers allows readers only glimpses of the actual text or scenes from the play itself, instead focusing on the horrific ramifications for anyone who reads it or watches a performance—which brings upon the victim an insanity and despair so vast their mind breaks. Think I’m exaggerating how addictively scary The King in Yellow is to readers?  Just know it’s so goosebump-inducing, it was referenced in HBO’s series True Detectiveand has inspired writers like Neil Gaiman and H.P. Lovecraft.

    Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft, by H.P. Lovecraft
    Speaking of the master of the creeping horror genre, no roundup of books hazardous to your health would be complete without H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a fictional book of magic vastly regarded as the ultimate in dark, evil, and dangerous literature. Supposedly written by the so-called “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, the grimoire appeared for the first time in Lovecraft’s short story “The Hound.” References to and excerpts from the Necronomicon are interspersed throughout many of his short stories and novellas, and these fleeting and rare mentions are more than enough—the excerpts referenced by Lovecraft are so chilling (“The Call of Cthulhu” still makes me shudder) and the power it wields over the reader so terrible that some people claim the Necronomicon must be a real book.

    The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas
    The End of Mr. Y is surprisingly gritty for a novel with such a philosophical and escapist premise. This is in no small part due to its protagonist, Ariel Manto, a journalist with a voracious appetite for the intellectual whose grim surroundings and messy personal life don’t reflect the ordered world in her mind. Manto is obsessed with the author of a novel titled The End of Mr. Y—an obsession that blossomed after being told anyone who reads the accursed novel will die. While the reader can correctly predict she will in fact both find and read the book, they can also be guaranteed that what follows will be like nothing they’ve ever read. Manto is thrust into an alternate place known as the Troposphere, a world made manifest by human consciousness that removes the limits of the mind. For someone of Manto’s intellectually curiosity, the temptation to immerse herself in the Troposphere is too strong. But all is not what it seems. There’s mischief afoot and dark forces lurking in the shadows of the Troposphere—and the intellectual freedom Manto finds there may come at the cost of her life.

    1984, by George Orwell
    1984 is masterpiece of dystopian fiction. In the 60 years since its publication, Orwell’s profound take on government surveillance and the effects of oppression on the human psyche has become firmly entrenched in the cultural and political lexicon. It also contains a powerful book within a book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Written by a feared and hunted opponent of the state, the text is “a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as The Book.” Unlike the other fictional tomes on this list, “The Book,”  despite the terror it invokes, is ultimately a catalyst for good rather than evil, leading the protagonist Winston Smith to fight, however fleetingly, against the tyranny of big government.

    Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk
    In Palahniuk’s Lullaby, a children’s book is the source of a unique and terrifying outbreak. Simply named Poems & Rhymes, the book’s dark magic is triggered by reading the lullabies written inside; doing so imbues the reader with the power to kill instantly. This dark magic is uncovered by reporter Carl Streator, who embarks upon a breakneck quest to stop the spread of the infection by any means necessary. Accompanied by what can only be described as a ragtag group of co-adventurers, the novel is by turns refreshingly humorous and terrifying, keeping readers on their toes. Lullaby is one of those books that keeps you up late at night, because you just have to find out what happens next. Almost as though the power of Lullaby has infected you, too…

    What dangerous books have we missed? Tell us in the comments, if you dare.

     
c
compose new post
j
next post/next comment
k
previous post/previous comment
r
reply
e
edit
o
show/hide comments
t
go to top
l
go to login
h
show/hide help
esc
cancel