Fall is upon us, and with Halloween just weeks away, I thought it would be a great time to reacquaint myself with the dark—but always interesting—world of horror fiction.
What better time to read these stories when nighttime seems to seep under the door and the shadows grow and lengthen while we watch…
An especially creepy novel just released is The Bird Box by Josh Malerman. The title and clever artwork has blackbirds shadowing the pages inside the novel and flying across the front cover, which seem to signal doom from a far off place.
A chilling story emerges as people are suddenly afraid of going outside their homes, or even looking out the windows. What are they seeing that causes them to have maniacal behavior? Trying to survive in a community gone mad, a young woman struggles to keep her young children safe in a home slowly running out of food and other resources. Bundling up her small ones, she decides to escape with them downriver to a town that is offering them shelter—if they can get there without “seeing.” But who—or what—is following their blindfolded, desperate attempt? Is it a real creature or only a frame of mind? I believe that many readers will have their own conclusions at the end of the story.
The novel Bellman & Black is similar to an Edgar Allan Poe poem, complete with a rook (raven) that is the center force in this tale. Author Diane Setterfield uses quotations from literary sources and history on the rook which appear on the chapter pages, deepening the shadows over the story.
William Bellman as a young boy kills a rook in a nearby tree with his handmade slingshot. This random act of killing becomes such a significant event that it overshadows his life, and begins to influence his every waking hour as he matures into an adult. What will happen to his wife, his children, his business—all under the dark spell of the rook?
Bellman tries to bargain with a black-attired man who is somehow linked to the rook, whom he calls simply “Mr. Black.” A deal is struck to start a business dedicated to offer services to the wealthy public in dealing with death—in fact, all aspects of death! Bellman brings in hearses, women’s clothing heavily detailed with jet beading, fitted black jackets for men, and all types of things used in the mourning process and for burying the dead. How will this action affect the rook, and Mr. Black, always lurking in the background? Will this act of desperation appease him, or will he ask for even more?
To further taunt the reader, Setterfield details the dark and fascinating world of the rook as a rather distinctive bird: from its satin black color to the stories, magic and other-worldly phenomenon that is essential to the bird. She gives the creature a macabre beauty and a soul that reaches for its own definition. Here is a sample:
“Temperature, altitude, danger….The things that form barriers to humans are not barriers to rooks. His horizons are broader. This is why it is the rook that accompanies departing souls through a thick fog of mystery to that place where no air is needed….they return…via other worlds.” [p.72]
If you decide to try either of these two different stories and read with the lights down low, you can deepen the novel’s effect.