Porter House Reads Series: Chilling Reads
Oct 31 ● BY The Editors
Autumn is a bewitching time of year—it manages to lure you in with the promise of pumpkin patches and spiced drinks, while also reminding you that all is not what it seems. In this season, you welcome cackling witches perched on brooms, exaggerated webs strewn across houses, plastic skeletons (propped up in chairs or laid bare in the dirt)—these images harken back to childhood, a reminder of a time when you might have believed in the magic underlying this season. And yet now, even as you smile at the spookiness of this decor—the wind takes on a chill, goosebumps rise on your skin, you are reminded of something that your young self instinctively knew: this time of year is slippery. The boundary between the physical world and the supernatural realm is a little less clear. Something, the spirits perhaps, seem to embolden you to partake in this phantom-laden landscape. It is as if you are communicating with death: we do not fear you, look at these bones I have laid out; but still, we honor you.
It is with this mindset, that I seek out a specific type of literature during this time of year. I’m not looking for shocking gore or silver-coated sadism, but for that liminal darkness. I look for books that don’t stray away from the innate undercurrent of humanity: the presence of death married with the impossibility of persistent life. How do the horrors of the past impart meaning onto our present selves? How do we sift through rotten carcasses in order to find what is growing underneath? How do we explore that which chills us in the way that we read, in the way that we write, in the way that we live?
– Jessica Bagwell
Failure and I Bury the Body by Sasha West
This book takes us on a chilling journey into the American Southwest, where the speaker and Failure have set out to bury a corpse that they can’t seem to shake. West summons up the naturally haunting images of roadside motels and railroad tracks, which both ground us in this present world and remind us of how easily the mundane can turn eerie. We, as readers, are pulled in and out of the literal and abstract—forced to grapple, as the speaker does, with what it means to carry a burden, a body.
We become invested in the way that Failure moves within this liminal space and as such, we become invested in this body and how the act of hauling a body around is both shocking and expected. Within these poems, we find the trauma that has imbued modern existence. In laying that trauma bare, we are forced to contend with a simple fact: life is implicitly complex, while we are able to find solace from the horror within tender moments, the bodies that we carry never leave us.
These poems force us to face a reality that we have all seen, and yet will ourselves to ignore—decay. The decay of the whole and the decay of its parts: this is the body that we are made to be burdened with—a body that we have both inherited and created.
Pick this book if you enjoy chilling imagery and poetry that subverts your expectations (in form, voice, & content).
Jessica Bagwell, Assistant Field Notes Editor
Bones & All by Camille Deangelis
When I first picked up the novel Bones & All by Camille Deangelis, I knew only what the trailer for the Luca Guadagnino film adaptation has made all too clear: this is a story about cannibalism. If I anticipated the gory, horrifying narrative that such a topic suggests, I’d have been off-base. Deangelis handles her gruesome conceit with a light touch and positions it within the realm of magical realism. The narrative closes its eyes and turns its back on the worst of the macabre acts of its characters, viewing these as shameful, private compulsions. Instead, Deangelis crafts a story with a focus on the humanity of its characters, on the toll that dark secrets and vices can take on a human, and on the search for answers to one’s identity.
Pick this book if the Halloween season has you craving just a touch of horror—and if you have a strong stomach, of course.
Molly Yingling, Managing Editor
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
While Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is considered a classic literary ghost story, it took me longer than I care to admit to finally read it. To readers who share a similar blindspot in their reading life: delay no longer. The characters are memorable, their complex relationships fascinating to see unfold, and the mysterious terror at the heart of the story earns its legacy. The novel is short enough to almost feel like a bite-sized candy, one full of supernatural sugar and cryptic nougat.
Pick this book if you don’t mind getting scared by words on the page and want something to entertain you while you wait for the next Mike Flanagan series to be released on Netflix.
Cameron Busby, Fiction Editor
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias
I recently read Gabino Iglesias’ horror novel The Devil Takes You Home and I can’t recommend it enough. The novel follows a grieving Mario through the Mexico-Texas borderlands in his attempt to pay off his daughter’s medical debt and save his marriage. In addition to some moments that were truly scary as hell, Iglesias intertwines commentary on poverty, the cartel, and racism in a way that feels honest to the experience of being a Latinx person in Texas. His prose has so many gorgeous lyrical moments.
Pick this book if you liked Breaking Bad but hated the Latinx stereotypes in it and if you like Texan noir exploring contemporary issues.
SG Huerta, Nonfiction Editor