Erik Williams is a former Naval Officer and current defense contractor (but he’s not allowed to talk about it). He is also the author of the novel Demon and numerous other small press works and short stories. He currently lives in San Diego with his wife and three very young daughters. When he’s not at his day job, he can usually be found changing diapers or coveting carbohydrates. At some point in his life, he was told by a few people he had potential. Recently, he told himself he’s the bee’s knees. Erik prefers to refer to himself in the third person but feels he’s talked about himself enough and will grant your eyeballs the freedom they deserve. Visit Erik at his website or follow him on Twitter as @TheErikWilliams.
Sure, you’ve all heard of “essential” horror novels everyone should read. That’s easy. So instead of making an easy list, I’m going to hit you with five books that not only do you need to read but read with the understanding, regardless of whatever genre they claim to be in, they truly are horror novels at their core.
Before we get to the list, though, let’s define horror. I tend to go with the definition that horror fiction scares or shocks you while also stimulating thoughts of repulsion and darkness. It offers you something very ugly and forces you to look at it.
I’m not talking about books that arouse a sense of dread or terror. I’m talking about what happens, not the build-up. Terror is the build-up. Horror is the by-product of the nastiness.
So on that note, here are the five.
You’ll be tempted to call this a Western, mainly because it is. However, in all reality, it’s Horror. I mean, you’ve got a ton of brutal violence that is shocking in a lot of regards. You’ve got an antagonist in the Judge who may actually be the real Devil. And you’ve got an ending that is absolutely dark and repulsive (and not just cuz it ends in an outhouse, for the most part). In my mind, I’ve never read a more horrific novel. Period.
It’s easy to see a lot of Horror in works of Noir. I mean, not much separates Noir from Cosmic Horror except for a few elder gods. In the end, on both sides, everyone is pretty much screwed. So is the case in The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy’s break-out book and perhaps, his darkest. Look, I’m an Ellroy apologist. I celebrate the man’s entire catalogue. But this book is one I’m in no rush to revisit. And it has everything to do with the most fucked-up family this side of Southern California you’re bound to read about for a long time. And the scene in Tijuana…
What, you didn’t know this classic was actually a Horror novel? You’ve got a crew on a damned voyage to hunt a monster that, in all reality, is the symbol of a god. You’ve got an insane Captain whose only reason to live is to kill this monster (i.e., god). It’s all about revenge and it all ends very badly.
Yep, Horror. Sure, it’s got its laughs but it’s also horrific. Set in a mental ward? Nurse Ratched? Billy’s tragedy? McMurphy’s fate? Yes, it ends on beat of hope but you got to go through hell to get to it.
I read this in high school and can’t remember reading a more depressing book since. Look, the Dust Bowl, coupled with the Great Depression era, is about as close as you can really get to the images of post-apocalyptic literature in the last hundred years. The whole history of those years is tragic in so many ways. Then you read this book and it’s a great big smack in the face. Not to mention it ends with a young woman breast feeding an old man to save him from starvation. Yeah, that sucks, pun intended.
- King Rat by James Clavell
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Pretty much anything by Flannery O’Connor
- A ton of stuff by Shakespeare (but hey, they’re plays!)