Not-So-Horrific Halloween Read: “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

woman in the window

If you’re the type who likes to curl up with a twisty, suspenseful Hitchcock flick on Halloween, here’s a novel you should try!

Anna Fox lives as a recluse in her New York City home.  She spends most of her time watching Hitchcock movies, drinking, and spying on her neighbors.  Then one night she thinks she witnesses a murder in the house across the street.  From there it’s a downward spiral into trying to decide what’s real and what isn’t, who’s lying, and what Anna actually saw that night.

Anna isn’t very likeable, nor is she very reliable, but she’s compelling to read about.  The Woman in the Window is a page-turner of a thriller, with quite elegant writing and an absorbing narrative voice.  The twists and turns and reveals of the book are a slow build, and there’s a constant air of uncertainty and menace as events unfold.

The references to Hitchcock movies and other thriller/film noir pieces abound, and the book really does have the feel of a black and white psychological suspense film.  Perfect for unsettling you on a Halloween night!

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Not-So-Horrific-Horror: “Security” by Gina Wohlsdorf

Okay, that’s a lie.  It’s pretty horrific for a thriller.  I’m talking blood, slashers, more blood, chase scenes, Michael Myers costumes, and yet more blood.  But it’s not straight-up Horror so I’m putting in the Not-So-Horrific category.

It’s also a quick, compelling read, so you might even finish it before the big day tomorrow!

wohlsdorf

Manderley, an expensive luxury hotel, is in the final stages of preparation before its grand opening.  Several employees are inside the building.  There’s also an unexpected early guest–a knife-wielding murderer who takes out the employees one by one.  And all the while, a mysterious first-person narrator is watching everything on Manderley’s state of the art security system.

It’s a very complex book stylistically–the formatting of a page will sometimes reflect all of the many things going on in different cameras, to different characters.  Black humor and a love story play out against the gory backdrop.

Really, I’m not kidding you.  Gory.  Blood in the elevators, bodies in the bathtubs, bits  of employee strewn around various rooms.  But even so, the characters are wonderful and the story is so compelling you get past it.

The narrator is revealed slowly over the course of the story.  As the story unfolds and you learn more about the narrator and his background, as well as his present circumstances, you realize how elegant and original the “twist” is.

Enjoy, and see you tomorrow, pals!  I’m putting candy out again this year, so come on down to the library!

–Marie

 

 

Not-so-Horrific Read: “The Night Sister” by Jennifer McMahon

Happy Halloween Week!  Here’s another Not-So-Horrific read for you to begin the count-down to the big day: The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon.

Longtime readers of this blog might remember last year’s McMahon-binge.  Do read that post for my fangirling  discussion of the appeal of her novels.  McMahon’s latest, The Night Sister, has all the same twists and turns, intricate plotting, moody atmosphere and mounting tension of her other work.  What sets it apart is the presence of monsters.

night sister

Like The Winter People, The Night Sister has overt supernatural elements.  In her earlier books, there was always just a touch of that, a sort of glimmer around not-so-nice realities. All-too-human monsters hide behind magical facades. In this book, as with The Winter People, you’re not quite sure how real the supernatural elements are until pretty far into the story, which helps build the suspense.

This particular story centers on two sets of sisters a generation apart.  In one past narrative, Piper and Margot and their friend Amy are growing up around the Tower Motel, once a big tourist spot in rural Vermont.  By the time the three girls were kids, the Motel had fallen into serious disrepair.  One summer they uncovered a nasty secret that blew their friendships apart.  In the other past narrative, there’s another set of sisters, Sylvie and Rose, who grew up at the motel in the 1950’s, and who both have something to do with the mysterious secret of the motel, and of Amy’s background.  The third narrative is set in the present, where Amy is accused of murdering her entire family, and Margot and Piper try to uncover the truth.

Secrets abound in this story, and the suspense comes from the desire to find out what’s really going on at the Tower Motel.  As I mentioned, the paranormal is overt in The Night Sister, but it plays so well into the dark family story that it doesn’t feel too much like fantasy or horror.  Rather, it’s a story about sisters and friendships and family secrets, and when you stop to think about it, the old-world monsters aren’t all that monstrous (though there is some deftly written well-placed gore).

But still, this is a compelling, darkly atmospheric tale, creepy and absorbing with well-crafted characters and relationships.  If you like your monster stories with a fairy-tale kind of feel, give this a try.

–Marie

Not-so-Horrific Read: “Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh

Sometimes Horror just isn’t what you want.  Sometimes you just want dark and unsettling, without jump scares or guts or monsters.  Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest, Eileen, might just fit the bill for you this Halloween.

eileen

Eileen is the story of a young woman who works in the office of a boys’ prison in the early 1960’s.  It’s the week before Christmas in a tiny New England town, and by the time the holiday rolls around Eileen will have disappeared.  She’s narrating from a point in the future, where she’s changed her name and taken on a new persona.  But clearly the past is still very much with her.

Eileen is distinctly unlikeable, but she’s such a well-developed character with such a distinct voice, filled with so much violence and desperation, that she’s compelling anyway.  This is a stark, bleak, sometimes ugly book, but it’s also compulsively readable and deeply affecting.  You can perhaps find a bit of pity for Eileen, trapped by her time and place and position.

The whole world of the story is dark and cold, the pre-Christmas New England snows a perfect backdrop.  The one bright spot that appears is when Eileen has the opportunity to make a friend in the new prison psychologist, Rebecca.  It could be the break she’s been waiting for.  But you quickly learn that in this book, the world’s not that kind.

If you’ve watched the brilliant television series American Horror Story (currently in its fifth year), you’ll know what I mean when I say that, in terms of oppressive atmosphere, compelling but deeply flawed characters, this book reminded me of “Asylum,” the anthology’s second setting/story arc.  Eileen in my imagination had the same color palette, the same dingy surroundings, the same dark shadows.  What’s lurking in the dark may not be the same, but the set-pieces sure felt similar.

For more dark reads, check out this post.  You can also find some not-so-horrorific reading lists in the Suggested Reading section.

–Marie

P.S.

This also counts as 26 Books to Read in 2015: #6! an author I’ve never read before.