Happy Halloween! This year we are sharing this group of unsettling, spooky reads to add to your fright-filled reading lists. The works range in how they dismay or frighten, but there’s no doubt you’ll find something that guides a chill up your spine when you crack one of theirs. The following five books cause discomfort in varied ways and it’s the reader’s experience of the world and literature that will guide what types of frights they may find!
Pauls by Jess Taylor
Paul is not always the same Paul, but could very well be a similar Paul, another Paul in a long line of Pauls. Paul runs through forests, drinks in student housing, flirts with girls, at times is a girl, loves men, makes friends, jumps from buildings, hurts people, gets hurt, climbs up towards the sky, waits for a sunrise, and all those human things.
Pauls, the debut short-story collection by the exciting young writer Jess Taylor, is about people: the things that remain unseen to them; how they cope with their unforgettable pasts; the different roles they take in each other’s lives; how they hurt each other; how they try to heal each other; the things they want to learn; and the things they’ll never discover. At the same time, Pauls is a portrayal of the world as these people see it—they all exist in a universe that is strange and indifferent to those within it. Coincidences, relationships, conversations, and friendships all pose more questions than answers.
“Reading a Jess Taylor story is like planting a magic bean and watching, with a flashlight, as it grows overnight into something you’ve never seen before. But then you climb up the stalk of the story and look around and realize there is no magic at all, at least, nothing un-real. These are true stories, illuminated with the wisdom of Flannery O’Connor and the wild leaping logic of Hans Christian Andersen.” —Michael Winter, author of Minister Without Portfolio, longlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Sadie X by Clara Dupuis-Morency, translated by Aimee Wall
Having followed the brilliant virologist Régnier from Montreal to Marseille many years ago, Sadie now works as a researcher in a lab, spending most of her time among microscopic creatures who teach her about life as a parasite. By day, she pushes the limits of her understanding alongside Régnier, who taught her that to study viruses, she must think infectiously, allow herself to be contaminated by dangerous ideas. By night, Sadie loses herself in bars, music, drugs, sensuality. Until she gets a call from the past that lures her back across the Atlantic.
When her estranged father tells her that a bizarre virus has been found in his hospital, Sadie returns to Montreal and her family, and all the unexpected changes time has wrought, to solve this new puzzle. Soon she realizes that the person she thought she was—someone who can leave everything behind—no longer exists. What is left for her instead is sinking into the unknown to find out what happens when ideas come to life.
“A demanding and highly intelligent novel, Sadie X boldly challenges everything the reader thinks they know up to the very last page.” —Collections: La revue du livre d’ici
Lent by Kate Cayley
In these peculiar times, we are thrust back into ourselves in a kind of suspension: one in which only private life exists yet threatens to become trivial through a sense of mutual, overarching dread.
Lent from award-winning writer Kate Cayley is built from this tension, exploring domestic and artistic life amidst the environmental crisis and the surprising ways that every philosophical quandary—large and small—converges in the home, in small objects, conversations, and moments. The grotesque and the tedious, the baroque and the banal, intertwine in the first three sections. Meticulous depictions of spectacle run into the repetition of daily domestic life: trying to explain time to children, day trips to the planetarium, and the warnings of strangers; these are interspersed with depictions such as Mary Shelley recalling the monster, the inner life of a seventeenth century portrait sitter, and Ted Hughes’s second wife telling her story to the dead Sylvia Plath. The title section explores religious faith; how belief is itself a repetition, a slow accumulation over time, just like love or forgiveness.
Lent is an exquisite work of our era, asking us to contemplate what it means to live in a broken world—and why we still find it beautiful.
“Gorgeous and startling, the poems in Kate Cayley’s Lent emerge as a testament to poetry itself: the desire to grapple with an imperfect world, and yet respond with praise. ‘Show me/the pith of my own heart,’ she writes, despite the darkness. These are poems filled with hope, searingly intelligent, by one of our country’s finest poets. Lent is a wonder.” —Steven Price, Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted author of Lampedusa
RATS NEST by Mat Laporte
Mysterious and sometimes hallucinogenic, RATS NEST builds a narrative out of the complexity and dialectical uncertainty that many people feel about being alive in the 21st century.
This debut book of sci-fi stories by Mat Laporte introduces readers to a protoplasmic, fantastical underworld, as navigated by a self-reproducing 3D Printed Kid made especially for this purpose.
As the Kid descends the layers of a seemingly never-ending pit, its nightmares and hallucinations—recorded in stunning detail—unfold in twelve chilling stories of unreality that will make readers think twice about what it means to be a human (or humanoid) on the planet we call home.
“Like the best dystopian sci-fi, Rats Nest instills the sense that things are progressing normally even as everything goes horrifyingly wrong.” —John Nyman, Broken Pencil Magazine
Her Body Among Animals by Paola Ferrante
In this genre-bending debut collection merging horror, fairy tales, pop culture, and sci-fi, women challenge the boundaries placed on their bodies while living in a world “among animals,” where violence is intertwined with bizarre ecological disruptions.
A sentient sex robot goes against her programming; a grad student living with depression is weighed down by an ever-present albatross; an unhappy wife turns into a spider; a boy with a dark secret is haunted by dolls; a couple bound for a colony on Mars take a road trip through Texas; a girl fights to save her sister from growing a mermaid tail like their absent mother.
Magical yet human, haunted and haunting, these stories act as a surreal documentation of the mistakes in systems of the past that remain very much in the present. Ferrante investigates toxic masculinity and the devastation it enacts upon women and our planet, delving into the universal undercurrent of ecological anxiety in the face of such toxicity, and the personal experience of being a new mother concerned about the future her child will face.
Through these confrontations of the complexity of living in a woman’s body, Her Body Among Animals moves us from hopelessness to a future of resilience and possibility.
“Paola Ferrante’s monster-haunted stories are as dark as a moonless lake—and as beautiful.” —André Forget, Amazon Canada First Novel Award–nominated author of In the City of Pigs