November Horror Round-Up

A look at the best horror books of November 2023.

November Horror Round-Up

This was likely the strongest month of any so far this year, with each of the books on the list a possible contender for the top slot. Like most of these “round-ups,” the choice of book is somewhat arbitrary and can include older titles in the mix. But this month we had only recent books published in 2023, and each one helped to illustrate why 2023 has been another landmark year in the return of horror to the literary marketplace. Those books acquired in November will spill over into next month as well, and you can expect that you will be hearing about these titles again in the year-end look back at the “best of 2023.”

A Different Darkness and Other Abominations - Luigi Musolino (Valancourt Books) *Pick of the Month*

This stunning collection from Italian horror luminary Luigi Musolino was a surprise. Not only had I not heard about it when I first picked it up at Powell’s Books, but Musolino has yet to really spill out into the American literary horror world as much as you would think after reading his chilling, cosmic horror stories. The book has a forward from existential horror author Brian Evenson (who we will be hearing more about this month), who encountered Musolino when editing a recent Valancourt anthology on world horror (which we may cover in the future). Evenson may be the perfect salesperson for Musolino’s brand of dread, and right from the start you will sense the desperate fear that Evenson has cultivated in his own work. The book includes a slew of short stories and ends with three novellas, all of which avoid tired genre tropes and focus instead on the most relatable types of trauma: becoming inexplicably lost with no way out, being fitfully consumed by grief, being inexorably attracted to your own demise, and other frightful machinations of the human mind. This is perfect for those used to American and British cosmic horror and is a contender for the best of the year. It is also a great offering from Valancourt, a publisher who has made a name for republishing forgotten classics and porting international books to the English market. This is a publisher to watch.

McSweeney's Issue 71 (McSweeney's Quarterly Concern): The Monstrous and the Terrible - Ed. Brian Evenson

This was a volume I knew little about when I picked it up, partially on its author profile and its unique presentation: it is a leatherbound book contained in a series of cardboard casings that force you to strip the layers of flesh and muscle off of a monster to get at its juicy center. McSweeney’s is a venerable American literary institution: they offer different themed volumes, all of which look distinct and are built off of different genre interventions. This one is their horror “issue,” edited by Brian Evenson, and featuring great contributions from people like Stephen Graham Jones, Nick Mamatas, Gabino Iglesias, and others. The strongest story may be Lincoln Michel’s fable “The Pond Gd,” but there are fantastic additions from Nick Antosca, Attila Veres, M.T. Anderson, and enough others to say the vast majority are superb. 

The book simply offers itself as an expertly edited, themeless horror anthology, reminiscent of solid entries from people like Ellen Datlow, and the design of it allows it another level of charm. This could easily have been the “pick of the month.”

They Were Here Before Us: A Novella in Pieces - Eric LaRocca (Bad Hand Books)

It’s been quite a year for Eric LaRocca. We have covered multiple books by LaRocca this year, including his various novellas, his first novel, Everything the Darkness Eats, and a collection of his short stories. LaRocca made an incredible splash with the viral novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, and his brand of particularly deranged and emotionally wrought terror has a particularly disturbing, and attractive, quality. This new novella is really a series of short stories, increasing in length, that are allegedly bound together by a central theme. What that theme is may not be entirely obvious, but there is an emotional center to the book that will keep you hopping between the tales, either those whose protagonists are insects or animals, or protagonists contending with Alzheimer’s or sight-driven monstrous apparitions. Add this to your holiday list, it is the perfect book to read cover-to-cover on a cold Saturday.

Monica - Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

This graphic novel may be a bit of a cheat, but enough of the chapters therein feel like a classic horror story, and so does its ultimately unclear ending, that its inclusion is warranted. This is Daniel Clowes, who you may know from books like Ghost World or Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, at his best: telling the story of a woman searching for her mother (and herself) across the decades of her life. Different portions of this narrative tip into horror territory: strange cults, zombie-like transformations, ghostly narrators, and hidden, occultic futures. Do not expect a classical horror experience, but ambiguity is the source of Clowes greatness: you can never quite pin down where the story’s beats are coming from, or why they keep you so passionately hooked.