February, in case you hadn’t heard, has been designated Women In Horror month, and even though I gotta admit I’m kinda longing for a future where female horror writers will be so commonplace that it will be unnecessary to even remark upon them, I do feel like we vagina-havers still need our own month for now. That’s because, for whatever reason, women who write horror are still thought of as something of a novelty, or at very least a tad oddball. It’s a lot better than it used to be, sure, but even in this enlightened year of 2015, it’s not unusual for a horror anthology to come out containing no women authors at all, and there’s still a lingering perception that women don’t like horror as much as the guys do, or they don’t write it as well, or something, since apparently we’re all just precious delicate flowers who could never possibly enjoy the song of the chainsaw, the call of Cthulhu, the visceral thrill of seeing someone’s spine forcefully extricated through their mouth. I guess there’s a similar bullshit thing going on with female comedians and “girl geeks,” but I’m not really gonna go into all that because this is a horror blog, and I gotta stay focused on the topic without going off on a rant. Anyway, since I’m a woman who has always loved everything to do with the horror genre, I’ve decided to celebrate Women In Horror Month by honoring a few of my favorite “girl” writers in the genre with this humble blog post. So here we go.
Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House
I know I talk about this book a lot (and I wrote a whole blog post about the fantastic film adaptation as well), but that’s because it is probably my favorite horror novel of all time, and easily one of the best horror novels of the 20th century. In Ms. Jackson’s capable hands, something as pedestrian as a haunted house story becomes a multilayered, intensely terrifying study of psychological breakdown. Her masterful characterization of Eleanor Vance is one of the best in literature of any genre, and I would defend that statement to the grave. If you love Haunting of Hill House, and I know I do, also check out her other novels The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which explore similar themes.
Anne Rivers Siddons – The House Next Door
Another haunted house story (because you know how much I love those), but from the completely opposite side of the spectrum as Jackson’s novel. The haunting in The House Next Door takes place in a fancy, newly-built contemporary pad thrown onto an odd-shaped lot by a hot-shot architect in a chi-chi Atlanta suburb. The main players are agonizingly upper-crust, status-conscious, and at times completely snobbish and obnoxious, but their unlikeability makes their fates that much more devastating. The cursed-from-birth house next door doesn’t contain anything as gauche as a spirit, exactly, but more like a force that somehow knows and plays upon the residents’ deepest fears and insecurities, and dishes out scares accordingly. A fresh take on the subgenre, and a satisfying one.
Doris Lessing – The Fifth Child
A supremely literary horror story, and a short one clocking in at only 150 pages, but its tentacles grasp tightly. Somewhat reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby, The Fifth Child sees “perfect” married couple David and Harriet pushing out one kid after another, much to the consternation of their extended families, who fear that the couple cannot care for the ones they already have. The first four kids are pretty much okay, but that fifth one, as the title suggests, is a doozy. A concise and terrifying examination of family dynamics and the social expectations surrounding the bearing of children.
Poppy Z. Brite – Exquisite Corpse
Perhaps this isn’t a fair choice for a “women in horror” post, since Poppy (born Melissa Ann Brite) has since undergone gender reassignment and now prefers to be known as Billy Martin, but at the time this novel was written she was still identified by a female pronoun as far as I know, so I’m going to include it. It’s a shockingly sick tale of two serial killers (based on real-life nutcases Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer) who join forces in order to find “the perfect victim.” They find their unicorn in the form of a pretty Vietnamese boy named Tran, and the story spirals into horrific madness from there. All of Brite’s trademarks are present, from the obsession with twisted killers to a fixation on the darkest and seediest underbellies of New Orleans. This is an intensely gory and profoundly fucked-up (but fantastic) novel.
Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree
Kiernan has written a lot of great books, including several pleasingly Lovecraftian ones. The Red Tree is the creepy tale of a woman named Sarah who moves to an old house in the woods after a terrible breakup and becomes obsessed with the ancient tree growing in the backyard, and the manuscript she finds that seems to hint that the tree conceals some terrible secret. If you like this one, I’d also recommend Silk and Low Red Moon by the same author.
Until next time, Goddess out.