We’ll ease into our Halloween celebration of Horror fiction with a book that falls into the Not-Quite-Horror category: Help for the Haunted by John Searles.
It might be worthwhile to revisit what “Horror” actually means, since we’re devoting the month to it. I discussed this last year, but just to recap: When we talk about a horror novel, we’re talking about a story which is intended to frighten the reader. There’s usually, but not always, a supernatural element. Last week, while we were talking about H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, my husband summarized the genre like this:
“Normal person goes to place. Sees spooky thing. Discovers that ‘Oh no! The world is run by an evil chaotic force!’ The end.”
He thought he was kidding.
But he was absolutely correct. That is exactly what the Horror genre boils down to. And in the case of Help for the Haunted, that is not what’s going on. There are certainly horror elements, as well as elements of suspense and a little bit of mystery, too. It’s dark fiction, but it’s not a horror story. The point is not to instill fear in the reader. Instead, we want to see everyone saved, and the mystery solved.
Here’s the story:
Sylvie Mason’s parents have an unusual occupation—helping “haunted souls” find peace. After receiving a strange phone call one winter’s night, they leave the house and are later murdered in an old church in a horrifying act of violence.
A year later, Sylvie is living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened to their parents. Now, the inquisitive teenager pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night—and to the truth about her family’s past and the secrets that have haunted them for years. -Amazon
This novel is a great example of Dark Fiction. The atmosphere is bleak and a bit ominous. There’s suspense and a touch of violence. Most important, there’s a hint of something, if not supernatural, then at least not quite right. At the same time, there isn’t that core horror element of a supernatural threat, that “evil chaotic force” which turns the world upside-down.
Instead, it’s the people in this book who turn their own lives upside down. The chaos is familial relationships, tensions between people with deep bonds, and the ugly truth of how far some will go to maintain the reality they’ve created for themselves. Also, the heart of the story is Sylvie putting the pieces of her life back together, and trying to turn the world rightside-up again. It’s that crucial difference that keeps this novel from being Horror. In a Horror novel, the world generally does not get righted again.
If you want more Dark Fiction suggestions, you can take a look at the post I linked above from last year: Not-So-Horrific Horror. Check out the Suggested Reading tab here on the blog, too–there are a couple of lists that might be promising.
And when you decide you’re ready to cross over to the side of full-on Horror, I’ll be here. Waiting.