The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix
Grady Hendrix doesn't just write for horror fans—he writes for the masses and, in the case of his latest book, readers who finds themselves charmed by both Southern drawls and the 1990s. The
Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is equal parts gore show and social commentary, plant- ing a handsome vampire on the gauzy back porches of Charleston, N.C., and making sure he's the least of the monsters. It's a quarantine read that won't make you think deep thoughts about the world—just possibly the cult mentality of book groups.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Stephen King
It'll take more than a pandemic to stop Stephen King from publishing another novel. His latest, If It Bleeds, wades deep into the world of techno-pessimism and shady reporting, but an older, wildly underrated classic is The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. A young girl finds herself separated from her family on a hike of the Appalachian Trail, left with only Twinkies, a tuna sandwich and a Walkman for survival and sanity. The reader is never quite sure how alone she is, with feverish visions of hulking, ugly beasts set to the sounds of Red Sox games. It's King at his best, delivering smart, understated horror that crafts suspense out of a single character and her own psyche.
The Hole, Hye-young Pyun
Reading The Hole is a bit like watching invasive surgery in real time, except the doctors should have their credentials revoked and the patient is somehow awake. A bestseller in Korea, Hye-young Pyun's novel follows the story of a man who regains consciousness after a car accident that kills his wife and leaves him disfigured, paralyzed, and in the care of his despondent mother-in-law. The Hole taps into the unique horror of neglect and isolation, as well what it means to be human and vulnerable. In other words, it's horror groomed for the pandemic age.
The Green Man, Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis isn't a traditional horror writer. Maybe that's why he can sketch out such a good ghost story. Too funny to be queasy, too chilling to be forgetta- ble, The Green Man isn't sure if it wants you to root for its lead, a middle-aged man in pastoral England who seems much too fussy and bumbling to attract a spirit from the other side. But you do, sort of, when the ghost is referred to as a "minor threat to security" and our protagonist falls victim to his own neuroses. The book soars in its punchy dialogue, figuring Amis as something of a slapstick Shirley Jackson.
The Rim of Morning, William Sloane
William Sloane's The Rim of Morning is two books in one—To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water—each playing to Sloane's signature style of cosmic horror and doling out genre-bending good- ness. In the two books, experiments go awry, death is mistaken for life, and scientists inexplicably go missing. The best way to approach Sloane's writing is to go in blind and fall down the rabbit hole he has burrowed for you. One character says it all: "The first sight of it nearly stopped the heart in my chest."
Guest Reading Recommendation: The Knockout Queen
by Rufi Thorpe
"It feels like the kind of novel you rarely come across—I hate to say I laughed and I cried, but, well, I did. With the world as it is I was in deep need of both, and this book is a total transportation device that will make you forget the news and remember the essence of your humanity. It's a deep and complex look at a very unlikely friendship between the 'queen of North Shore,' a 6-foot-3 volleyball star named Bunny Lampert, and Michael, a closeted teenage boy living with his aunt after his mother goes to prison. Their teenage lives become increasingly complicated after an unspeakable act of violence changes their paths forever. The sentences feel like beautiful little explosions of truth: "Some thoughts are just too expensive to have…," Bunny muses at one point. I loved the voice of Michael, who tells the story. He is a wise yet urgent narrator, with a keen eye for bizarre detail, dark humor, and surprising insights. It's a look at how time changes friendships and what we make of the cards we are dealt." —Chelsea Bieker, author of the novel Godshot.