Horror novels Having a renaissance
From the late 1970s through much of the ‘80s, horror fiction, long one of the most marginalized forms of popular entertainment, experienced an aesthetic and cultural resurgence.
The “horror boom,” propelled largely by the phenomenal success of Stephen King, paved the way for numerous writers — Peter Straub, Thomas Tessier, Chet Williamson, Ramsey Campbell and Dan Simmons, to name just a few — who brought talent, intelligence and seriousness of purpose to the genre.
But every boom has a bust, and cynical, secondrate imitations featuring haunted mansions, rampaging demons and evil children soon overran the marketplace. It’s been apparent for some time that a second horror renaissance is underway, one that is quieter and less marketoriented.
There is a growing reservoir of first-rate work coming from both mainstream publishers and small, independent presses with names like Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press and Bloodshot Books.
With apologies to the laundry list of gifted folks I’m overlooking, here’s a sampling of the best new horror on offer.
This novel by Canada’s Gemma Files tells the story of a film critic whose research into a piece of ancient footage leads to violent and unexpected consequences. It balances Hungarian folklore and the history of Canadian cinema with a bruisingly realistic account of a young couple struggling to raise their autistic son. This is one of the most original, accomplished horror novels of recent years.
This mysterious, richly atmospheric book (a first novel by Britain’s Andrew Michael Hurley) likewise deals with the impact of damaged children
on family life. During Easter Week, a deeply Catholic family travels to a distant shrine on the English coast, hoping to find a miracle cure for their mute older son. Miracles, they discover, do exist, but always at a cost. Hurley’s second novel, Devil’s Day, will be published shortly, and anticipation runs high.
A collaborative novella by the father-son team of Richard and Billy Chizmar, Widow’s Point is an epistolary rendering of a classic horror trope: a psychic investigator’s encounter with a Bad Place and its animating spirits. Set squarely in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and Richard Matheson, this is a slow burn of a story best read in a single uninterrupted session.
More in the populist mode of Stephen King, Tom Deady’s Haven features adolescent heroes, cyclical murders in a small New England town and government malfeasance, not to mention a monster in the local river. The King influence is clear and not yet fully digested, but Deady’s novel has its own unique virtues: a compelling sense of character and place, an underlying warmth and a propulsive, steadily increasing narrative drive. In dark times, such dark fiction has its own special place. We may never have needed it more.