A selection of scary stories to tell in the dark
Each year around this time, I try to share a few titles that have an element of fear. As we've talked about before, there is a broad range of subjects that can be lumped into the category of scary stories. Werewolves, ESP, hauntings, serial killers and demons have each been featured in books with an assigned horror genre.
Lately, it seems as though popular media has been inundated with scary beings. On television and in movies we've seen a lot of zombies, vampires, telekinesis and mysteries of the unknown. What happened to the good old-fashioned ghost story?
We need more foggy nights and creaking stairs, maybe a few townspeople with secrets and whispers on the wind. I guess I'm in the mood for something more along the classic lines of Charles Dickens, Daphne DuMaurier or Edgar Allan Poe.
Here are my selections:
— In "This House Is Haunted" by John Boyne, we are given all of the atmosphere that a great ghost story demands.
Eliza Caine is a schoolteacher in 1867 England. When her father suddenly dies from a sudden illness, she's ready for a change, and applies for a governess position miles away from her home in London. When she arrives, she sees a dark and foreboding Gothic mansion quietly reaching upwards into the gray clouds and surrounded by a desolate landscape.
The children are alone and unable to answer the simplest questions about the fates of the adults in the house. And of course, odd things begin happening. Danger lurks behind every corner.
The townspeople seem friendly until Eliza tells them where she works. Then they become almost paralyzed with sadness and concern. But Eliza is a strong woman, almost Dickensian with her plain face and sense of duty. She is determined to get some answers and enlists the aid of a lawyer named Alfred Raisin with a clerk named Cratchett — another nod to Dickens.
The atmosphere the author paints is magnificently eerie, and the characters are ones that the reader immediately cares about. John Boyne is well known for his storytelling ability: mesmerizing details with the appropriate pacing. This one is perfect to pick up one night in October, preferably to be read during a storm in front of a fireplace.
— We switch gears a little bit in "Help For the Haunted" by well-known novelist John Searles. Set in suburban Baltimore in the 1970s and '80s, the narrator is precocious Sylvie Mason. Just 14 years old, Sylvie has seen a lot in her life.
The story begins late one night with a phone call, as they often come at night. Sylvie doesn't know who it is that calls, or even why they need her parents' assistance. She knows that her deeply religious parents help people, but she's unclear how. Sometimes strange characters come to the house and stay in her family's basement.
The basement is a whole different story. Filled with horrific memorabilia from heinous events, it is a place her father cherishes.
As the story jumps back and forth in time, we learn that Sylvie is an awkward girl with few friends but a kind heart and a quick mind. She tries her best to be a good daughter and does whatever her parents ask. She has an older sister, Rose, who is often distrustful and combative.
Eventually the reader learns that the girls' parents help individuals who are suffering from possession. They begin to attract attention, and a local newspaper reporter takes interest in their story. But what IS the real story?
Through the book, we learn a number of truths — and untruths — that throw wrenches into the plot. How much does Rose really know about what is going on, and to what lengths will her parents go to help others and gain notoriety? This one is also well plotted and kept me turning the pages until the final chapter, still trying to figure out what happened to poor Sylvie and her family.
— And finally, I would be remiss to not mention the latest Stephen King book. "Doctor Sleep" is actually a sequel to one of his most popular novels of all time, "The Shining." This one takes on the story of young Danny Torrance, all grown up and trying to make a life for himself — separate from the history of his infamous father and the Overlook Hotel. However, it seems as though Danny has taken on some of his late father's demons.
Take some alcoholism, some hospice patients, a teenage girl with a strong sense of the "shining," and a gang of evil geriatric predators called "True Knot," and you've got another winner for King. There's a reason why they call him the master storyteller.
It's the season for jumping at strange noises, cautiously turning corners and letting the eeriness settle in for the night. Pick up a few titles at the library to make the season complete.
Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.