Sunday, July 18, 2010

Books: Literary Horror Double Feature

Miffed by the inexplicable success of the "Twilight" saga? Want some real, substantive horror fiction to keep you company this summer? Here are a couple of novels that feature absolutely zero vampire-human-werewolf love triangles:

Demon Theory

I don't normally quote the review blurbs on the covers of books, but this one is a pretty apt description:
Reading Stephen Graham Jones' "Demon Theory" is akin to watching horror director Wes Craven's "Scream" trilogy with David Foster Wallace whispering in your ear...ingenious. --Dallas Morning News
Stephen Graham Jones is an English professor, so "Demon Theory" contains two key stylistic experiments. First, it's written like a pseudo-screenplay, complete with camera directions and set descriptions. Jones' ability to create scenes of mounting tension even with the artifice present for all to see is pretty impressive.

The second literary device is the copious and constant endnoting. The endnotes reference cliches, in-jokes, and arcana that horror geeks will immediately understand and appreciate. They also reinforce the metafictional aspects of the main text in an unobtrusive way (you can ignore the endnotes and just read the story straight through).

The story itself starts out as a straightforward '90s slasher flick: a group of young med students find themselves trapped in a snowy, out-of-the-way farmhouse with someone...or something...picking them off one by one. The book quickly introduces psychological twists, dead-ends, and parallels to keep you guessing. I'll admit the narrative loses steam halfway, but it's a worthwhile read if you can chug through.


Isn't it obnoxious when an ultra-popular (but pulpy) book bears the same title as yours? William Gay is sort of the Southern Gothic answer to Cormac McCarthy, and his spare, haunting prose animates this tale of a chase through the ruined South.

In "Twilight," a young lad named Kenneth Tyler is thrust into a nightmare when a blackmail scheme involving a seedy undertaker goes horribly wrong. Without spoiling too much, let's just say Tyler has to make a journey through harsh and forgotten wilderness, and he isn't alone...

If "Demon Theory" is a bloated buffet of a horror novel, "Twilight" is the sort of short, sharp psychological thriller that will leave images of brackish backwoods and abandoned mansions floating in your head. Either will probably be more entertaining than several hundred pages of vampire abstinence.


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