March Horror Round-Up

March Horror Round-Up

Fervour - Toby Lloyd (Hodder & Stoughton) - Pick of the Month

Fervour is, like all the books on the list, only coded into horror by the accident of categories. This is how it ultimately made its way to me, one of the few “Jewish horror novels” for contemporary readers. But while the horror elements are scant, this is perhaps the most powerful novel of the year, plumbing the depths of familial tragedy through the language of Torah. The Rosenthal’s Orthodox family are met primarily through the memories of Elsie, a sometimes girlfriend of the clan’s youngest, as well as the segments of the matriarch’s controversial and Biblically literate memoirs. The book alternates between the danger of scriptural literalism and the reality that religious narratives often remain the only possible explanation of a life in crisis. While it may not appeal to hardened genre fans, this is a crushing domestic story, lodged directly reality that the mystery of families may only be decoded through the ancient wisdom of mystic voices.

Out There Screaming: A Black Horror Anthology - Ed. Jordan Peele (Random House)

As one of the biggest horror anthologies of last year, Jordan Peele offers a similar intervention as he did with horror films by collecting some of the most celebrated genre authors in the world together into one book. What we end up with is remarkably different from what often hits short fiction shelves, though it plays fast and loose with most horror conventions. An example is the most well known of the authors in Out There Screaming, such as Cadwell Turnbull and N.K. Jemisin, are known more for speculative fiction, and some stories in the book, like Justin C. Key’s “The Aesthete,” as fabulous as they are, is not horror, exactly. That shouldn’t (and hasn’t) scare off genre faithfuls, and besides those authors mentioned, there are additionally fabulous stories by Rebecca Roanhorse, L.D. Lewis, Lesley Nneka Ariman, and Terence Taylor. 

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Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology - Ed. Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst (Vintage)

Hawk and Van Alst decided to open up beyond where Peele did in his anthology with what was actually the most popular horror anthology in 2023. It’s easy to see why since it's a great opportunity to encounter a huge swathe of new writers, some emerging and others established, with enough flexibility to appeal beyond genre fans. While there were fewer horror standards than I would typically prefer, some of the strongest entries bucked the genre world entirely or simply used horror conventions as an entryway for a more conventional literary rendition. Some of the best examples from the anthology come right off the bat, including by Mathilda Zeller, Rebecca Roanhorse, Canley Lyons, Nick Medina, and Tommy Orange. 

The Shards - Bret Easton Ellis (Alfred & Knopf)

Ellis’ most recent opus, his first novel in over ten years and only this second in nearly 20, The Shards is a fictionalized auto-biography of a horrifying senior year at an elite prep school in 1981 Los Angeles. Built around the same cast of wealthy, entitled kids that every one of his novels features, his self-projection adds a little more care and pathos to the characters on the screen while capturing much of the self-loathing and terror that exists when you realize who you are and still have some time before you can truly become that person. The book is most reminiscent of Lunar Park, at least with its self-referential nature, but structurally reads like the more recent (and much shorter) Imperial Bedrooms. Ellis is someone who has become much less welcome the more we hear from him, but The Shards at least reminds us that there is a competent writer behind the increasingly caustic podcast personality he has become.