I recently found myself craving some terrifying literature—the idea of reading something frightening feels so seasonally appropriate. That said, I’d like to avoid fiction that panders to generic tropes and also isn’t by Irving or Poe. Could you recommend a work of genuine literary merit that’s also disturbing and Halloween-ish? —Ryan Sheldon
Two spooky writers spring immediately to mind: Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter. Jackson is the more Hallowe’eny of the two. You might begin with her last novel, first published in 1962 (and reissued last year), We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m not sure what you mean about generic tropes: This is absolutely pure New England Gothic, but there is no pandering in it. I think the literature of the uncanny depends on genre conventions—and, at its most uncanny, plays with them, so the spooky and the banal get mixed up together.
Readers of The Daily have seen me recommend Angela Carter’s stories, collected in Burning Your Boats. They are favorites of mine. (Burning Your Boats came to me, originally, as a present from kid-lit expert Laura Miller. It is one of those favorite books that I lent out years ago and never got back.) When Carter rewrites a fairytale, she doesn’t make light of it, she finds what is really and truly disturbing in the original and burnishes that until it shines. If you like Bruno Bettelheim, you’ll love Angela Carter.
I’m trying to impress—okay, maybe seduce—an author. I could flatter him with extravagant praise for his books, but that seems too obvious. Might I be able to snag him with an obscure book recommendation, or am I better off just wearing something appealing? —F. B.
It is never wrong to wear something appealing—and there’s no such thing as too-obvious praise!
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