May is the new October, apparently!
At the end of last month, I had a lot of fun reading Where They Wait, and I decided to keep the horror train rolling into May. I didn’t realize that the horror train really wouldn’t stop, save for one detour that now serves as a bizarre outlier in a scary month of reading.
Check out my favorite reads from May below, as well as notes on all of the books from this past month.
Best of the month
“Sometime that August, a young man named Ryan Wilkes vanished without so much as a whisper.”From Red X by David Demchuk
Red X / David Demchuk
I can say with complete certainty that I have never read a horror novel quite like David Demchuk’s Red X. Using the real life disappearances of men from Toronto’s gay village over the years (chronicled in Missing from the Village by Justin Ling), Demchuk crafts a horror mystery that layers in other real-life horrors of the gay experience like the AIDS epidemic, and then injects it with a metatextual through line involving Demchuk himself.
If that sounds like A LOT, it is, but its execution is seamless. The book becomes an exercise in creating an explanation for unexplainable tragedy. The horror elements never feel in poor taste, because the real life events that inspired it are just as horrifying.
I’m a huge fan of mythologizing the queer experience (ex. The Song of Achilles), and this fits nicely into that school of thought. Tragedies like the AIDS epidemic and the unsolved disappearances of gay men are impossible to understand, and as Joan Didion once said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live… We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices.”
What Demchuk has done is created a legend infused with supernatural horror to explain an even greater horror: the pathological carelessness of those who stood idly by while a community suffered unimaginable tragedy.
The Hacienda / Isabel Cañas
Red X was the best thing I read this past month, but Isabel Cañas’ The Hacienda was far and away the most fun I had reading this month. An easy comp title for The Hacienda is Sylvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, another novel I loved when it was released two years ago. My only complaint of that novel was that it didn’t feel like it used its setting and culture to its advantage. The Hacienda manages to use Mexican history to shape the story, and Cañas’ gothic romance has everything one would expect from the genre, and more. New brides, haunted houses, the ghost of a former wife, as well as witches and a (hot) priest. It’s a hell of a good time, and it’s the perfect horror read for those who like their fright level to be spooky, not scary.
Children of Chicago / Cynthia Pelayo
Last year, Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago received a lot of praise from literary critics and was heralded as one of the best horror novels of the year. Catching up with it in May, it was easy to see why. Pelayo utilizes the German legend of the Pied Piper as inspiration for her story of unexplained murders of children in Chicago, and the novel follows a corrupt police officer with her own dark family history as she tries to catch whoever – or whatever – is behind the rash of murders. I love a horror novel that creates its own mythology and history, and Pelayo crafts hers brilliantly. The ending may leave some readers feeling cold, but I admire when writers really go for it and explore the dark reality of the world around us.
Come Closer / Sara Gran
As an avid fan of horror, I must admit that it takes a lot to really scare me. Many of my favorite horror novels simply thrilled me, but an elite class found ways to genuinely scare me. Sara Gran’s Come Closer is one of the special few that was able to accomplish that task. This slim novel is a first-person narrative of someone who becomes possessed by a demon, and Gran illustrates the gradual loss of control that our narrator has over her own thoughts and impulses, and eventually her actions. There are a few sequences in the novel that forced me to set the book down for a minute to collect myself. Psychological horror like this is usually what scares me most (I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reed gave me nightmares for three days while reading it), and Come Closer is a masterpiece of psychological terror.
Notes on other may reads
Bone White / Ronald Malfi
The first 80% of this book was a shining example of how to build dread in a horror novel. The final 20% is straight from the Stephen King Handbook for Bad Endings.
The Fervor / Alma Katsu
Alma Katsu crafts great premises… her execution, however, continues to leave something to be desired. I was tempted to make this one of my “Best of the Month” despite its mediocrity because I have so many thoughts on this book. Her continued usage of POVs that are removed from the narrative action deflates any tension she manages to build!! It’s the exact same problem that plagued The Hunger. Stop it, Alma!!!!!!
Later / Stephen
Classic King! It was fun! What more do you want? It has a kid who can see dead people? It’s a good time? The ending is meh? It’s King doing what King does best!
Daring Greatly / Brene Brown
Deeply obsessed with how out of left field this book ends up seeming. It was fine! I reflected on things! May continue reading other personal development books, stay tuned.
Summer Sons / Lee Mandelo
Often good, rarely great. It was disappointing that it eventually morphs into a murder mystery (with the most obvious culprit, natch), but it’s certainly a wild ride.
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