When people think of horror, certain names typically come to mind: Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker. Women are not known for writing horror, and some say that’s because “women aren’t as violent as men.” There is a marked lack of women writing horror, which was hard not to notice as I started putting together a list of great horror books for the Halloween season. I had a full list of ten books, and when I sat down to write the listicle, I noticed that there was not one woman author on the list. That’s when I decided to challenge myself to find some excellent horror books written by women that smash the stereotype. Women *can* be as violent and scary as men, and arguably moreso. Here’s a list of five books that will prove it.
You by Caroline Kepnes
“The only thing crueler than a cage so small that a bird can’t fly is a cage so large that a bird thinks it can fly. Only a monster would lock a bird in here and call himself an animal lover.”
One of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2014, this novel follows Joe Goldberg, a bookseller in East Village. When a beautiful aspiring writer walks into his store, he does what we all do, but won’t admit to: he Googles the name on her credit card and Facebook stalks her. The story quickly turns dark, though, as Joe becomes obsessed and invisibly begins to take control of the woman’s life by removing the obstacles that stand in the way of them being together. Truly unsettling and terrifying, this is a novel about just how vulnerable we all are to stalking and manipulation. If you like Stephen King’s Misery or Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, you’ll also like this psychological thriller.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“’Fear,'” the doctor said, ‘is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.’”
Shirley Jackson can be found on many lists of the best horror authors of all time, and for good reason. Her work has influenced generations of writers, including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic haunted house story with a seemingly tired premise: Dr. John Montague, a supernatural investigator, invites guests interested in the paranormal to Hill House to look for scientific proof of a haunting. One of the guests, Eleanor, is well acquainted with poltergeists and starts noticing things the other guests do not. The question is: is Eleanor just emotionally disturbed, or is there more to Hill House than it seems? The premise may seem tired, but that’s because it’s the original. Many, many stories have been based on and inspired by this one. Jackson’s penchant for leaving the details up to the reader’s imagination makes the story even creepier. If you’re a fan of haunted house stories, this is a must-read, as it’s where all those stories come from.
Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates
“I am not doing well, I think. Or maybe just OK. I know they are writing reports. But I am not allowed to see. If one of these was a woman I would do better, I feel. They believe you, they are not always watching you. Eye contact has always been my downfall.”
The Missing by Sarah Langan
“I like writing about messed-up chicks with brains, bad pasts, and serious challenges.” –Sarah Langan
Sarah Langan has only written three books so far, but she’s made quite a splash into the horror scene. She debuted with the first book in this series, The Keeper, which was a finalist for the 2006 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. She’s drawn comparisons to Stephen King, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, and Peter Straub. The Missing was her second novel, and a loose sequel to The Keeper. In this novel, a third grade teacher, Lois Larkin, takes her kids on a field trip to the neighboring town of Bedford, a Maine community that was destroyed by environmental catastrophe. The class bully is left behind in the woods and unearths an ancient, contagious plague that transforms its victims into something violet, hungry…and inhuman. Both The Keeper and The Missing are considered standalone novels, although if you read The Keeper first, you’ll get more background information. The Missing is horrifying and should resound with fans of the Netflix original Stranger Things.
Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror edited by Lynne Jamneck
“Ghosts are those memories that are too strong to be forgotten for good, echoing across the years and refusing to be obliterated by time.” – Caitlin R. Kiernan, from The Drowning Girl
I thought it would be appropriate to end this list with a book full of stories written by women horror authors, showing that, although often overlooked and stereotyped, women can certainly write great horror fiction. This anthology includes stories from Caitlin R. Kiernan (quoted above), Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Bear, Gemma Files, Molly Tanzer, and Lois H. Gresh, among many others. Amazing women give us a glimpse into ancient elder horrors, whose whispers have been growing stronger and whose energy has been seeping into the world. These unimaginable forces have inhabited the world for eons, slumbering or quietly observing as humans have taken over the Earth. In this collection of stories, we are gifted with some of the finest cosmic horror and weird fiction from prominent women authors in the field today.