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Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Christopher Buehlman

In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve.

Today’s recommendations are by Christopher Buehlman. Christopher Buehlman is the author of the literary horror novels Those Across the River, Between Two Fires, The Necromancer’s House, and The Lesser Dead. The winner of the 2007 Bridport Prize in poetry, he is also the author of several provocative plays, including Hot Nights for the War Wives of Ithaka. His first novel, Those Across the River, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for best novel in 2012. Christopher lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

When I tell people that my favorite genre is literary horror, more than a few of them raise an eyebrow (visibly or invisibly) and demand a definition. The best I have been able to do so far is to say that a literary horror novel poses larger questions; that it presents vivid settings and animates three-dimensional characters one would want to read about whether or not anything supernatural happened to them. The best recent example I can think of is Sarah Waters’ exquisitely creepy, classically gothic novel, The Little Stranger. Set in rural mid-twentieth century England, this is the story of the Ayres family, landed gentry now running out of money and watching their once-majestic manse fall into decay; it is also a top-shelf ghost story. Our narrator, a country doctor who takes an amorous interest in the daughter of the matriarch, finds his attempts at courtship overshadowed by the eruption of what savvy readers will recognize as poltergeist activity. Strange writing on the walls, inexplicable fires, and outbreaks of aggression in normally docile animals soon take a heavy toll on the sanity of the Ayres, and we begin to wonder what it is the affable doctor really wants and whether or not he has overcome his childhood resentment of the family his mother once served as domestic to. Waters’ beautiful prose inspires as often as it unsettles; her portrayal of Britons trying to find their way in the modern world is utterly credible, and the haunting at the heart of the story is unforgettably chilling. This is one of the best books I have ever read.

Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is a zombie novel; it is also a poignant meditation on the nature of friendship, memory, and the significance of life itself. What do we hold on to when the world falls apart? To whom do we entrust our truth? Can one snapshot summarize our lives, show others who and what we were? The narrative follows a soldier on mop-up detail, searching reclaimed buildings in lower Manhattan for overlooked zombies in the wake of an infectious, apocalyptic plague that may or may not be burning itself out. In addition to musical, engaging language, Colson gifts us with a new plank in the zombie myth–the straggler, a zombie ‘misfire’ that, rather than turning cannibal and trying to eat or infect the living, goes to a place that was significant to her and poses there, undying, as a sort of living monument to the life she has lost: an old man stands frozen in a field, holding the string to a grounded kite; an office worker hunches over a lifeless copy machine. Though stragglers have proven to be uniformly benign, official policy dictates that they are to be shot as a matter of precaution, and the way individual soldiers execute this order says a great deal about the man or woman behind the gun. Zone One has no shortage of action, mostly revealed in flashbacks, but it carries an unexpected payload of philosophy and wonder. Highly recommended.

Stay tuned for the next post where we get reading recommendations from Stephen Blackmoore!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).

2 Comments on Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Christopher Buehlman

  1. I’ve got both those books on my bookshelf and much to my shame have yet to read either of them. I’m inspired now to get myself into gear now and make them a priority. I really loved Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter as well for literary horror. And, of course, Those Across the River and The Necromancer’s House. Haven’t read The Lesser Dead just yet, but it’s on my list.

  2. David Greybeard // November 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm //

    I LOVE Christopher Buehlman’s books. It’s so very very hard to find a good horror novel. I’m very pleased he’s putting out all these wonderful stand-alones. Horror novels do seem to be having a Renaissance of late, and he’s pretty much top dog in my book, with Reggie Oliver the current King of horror short stories.

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