The Fright Stuff

The Fright Stuff: Horror From The Backlist

I bid you welcome. Welcome to the prototype of The Fright Stuff weekly newsletter. I’m Mary Kay, and I’ll be your Virgil. This time we journey through the backlist of the horror inferno. If you’re like me (and I assume that everyone is), you consider September 20 WELL INTO Halloween season. Kind of like 5:12 is WELL INTO happy hour. Let’s be honest, though, it’s never NOT Halloween season. From April 1 to September 24 it is summer, and Halloween is year-round. If you’re behind the time of the season, or if you just want to make sure you’re primed for horror, you’re in the right place.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the top six books to scare the literal shit out of you. (I know that sounds like an overstatement, but I can’t be the only one who, when she gets actually scared, runs to the bathroom to poop. There’s no way I’m the only one affected with that natural selection fail. Quit playing. Be honest. Just don’t take the book with you to the bathroom. Or maybe do… one-stop shopping, if you will.)

As a bonus, I’ll be supplying you with a soundtrack each week, just one song, to accompany your horror shows…

Ear worm of the week:

“Time of the Season” by the Zombies

The List:

cover of toni morrison beloved the fright stuff newsletterBeloved by Toni Morrison

I recommended this book by the late, Great Soul, Toni Morrison, to a literary friend of mine, and he was ill with me because I didn’t tell him it was horror. I said, “Well. It’s about slavery, so… I don’t know what else you needed to know.” In retrospect, I could have told him that there’s a child murder, a spiteful baby ghost, and a narrative of the Middle Passage. This novel is truly one of the most haunting, gripping things I’ve ever read, and I recommend it to everyone I can: I really can’t ever oversell it. I mean, there’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize.

of love and other demons by gabriel garcia marquez the fright stuff newsletterOf Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

You’ve likely heard of Gabo before, and you probably know him for his magical realism, but this short novel is the epitome of his themes and motifs, plus a demon. The novel takes place in the 1770s in coastal Colombia, with a 12-year-old girl’s birthday and a bite on her ankle from a rabid dog. Her father spends months with professionals and faith healers trying to cure her rabies, and just when he has run out of options, someone suggests that Sierva Maria is actually possessed. Don’t worry: it gets worse.

blood meridian cormac mccarthy the fright stuff newsletterBlood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Honestly, this book is so visceral in the most literal way that I’ve started it three separate times, and I have yet to make it through. A band of mean men join together to bounty hunt and essentially raise hell in the wild west. It’s a tale full of gore and violence during a time of essentially genocide against Native Americans. I’ve tried to read it at Thanksgiving for the past several years because it seems like the appropriate time to set the record straight, but honestly, it is just too atrocious.

james hogg the private memoirs and confessions of a justified sinner cover psychological horror booksThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

I was assigned this novel in college, and I really underestimated its scariness. On his birthday, our protagonist makes a new friend, reading a Bible written in red, who tells him that he is among the Elite, or those souls predestined to go to heaven. Looking for peace of mind, our protagonist believes him. This novel essentially answers the question of what happens when there are no consequences for your actions… and what do you do when you suddenly realize, after all your sinning, that you actually ARE responsible for all your actions?

woman warrior maxine hong kingston“No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston

This essay is one in the collection called Woman Warriorbut this one in particular makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I reach its conclusion. As an adult, Maxine looks back on the boogeyman story that her mother told her, of the Aunt who got pregnant out of wedlock and drowned herself and her child in the village’s well, and whom, as a punishment, her family has sworn to never mention. The drowned ghost, according to the Chinese, is a spiteful ghost.

mules and men zora neale hurston cover the fright stuff newsletterMules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Let me be clear: it’s only the second half of this book that will scare you, and that’s not even the point of this text. It’s supposed to be (and is) an ethnography of folklore among Black people in the American south. The first half is full of “lies,” as Hurston calls the oral traditions, but the second half details her indoctrination and practice under several hoodoo doctors in New Orleans. It’s scary because it’s unknown–even as she tells certain horrific rituals in detail, Hurston says of others, it’s a secret. It leaves the reader to wonder: if you COULD tell me about love spells and revenge curses, what kinds of horrors CAN’T you tell me?

Fresh Hells:

And speaking of the backlist of horror… did you see that Nickelodeon has released its new trailer for the reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was never a REAL member of the Midnight Society (mostly because I don’t want to shit in the woods anymore), BUT I do remember watching it through my fingers as a child. Y’ALL. Remember when that girl got trapped in the painting?! That was my JAM. She should have known sooner–what art teacher ENCOURAGES you to only use one brush? Ignorance.

And enjoy that new release of We Have Always Lived in the Castle on Netflix… maybe have a cup of coffee sweetened from this pot.

And in case you need a dose of true crime in your cauldron, Quibi (a new mobile device streaming service) will host Murder House Flip, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a home improvement show for houses in which someone has been killed. Good thing the episodes are short…?

As always and forevermore, probably, you can find me and my bullshit at my author page, or on Book Riot. And follow me on social media! (TW: @mkmcbrayer , IG: @marykaymcbrayer )

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay