The Only Three Books to Seriously Mess Me Up

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Author’s Note: I came across this guest blog while answering a friend’s question about Stephen King books on Facebook, and realized I’d never brought it over here for safekeeping. So, you get it now. It originally appeared on the Undead Rat’s website, preceded the previous day by a review of WILD, the book I was touring (virtually) for in March 2011.

Let’s face it; when you write the scary stuff like I do and review horror books on a regular basis, it’s easy to… take the chills for granted, so to speak, or to become jaded. Kinda like how you can eat your dinner while watching the evening news because you see the same murders and genocide night after night.

Now, there have been quite a few novels that made me cringe; I made the mistake of reading Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic and J.F. Gonzalez’ Survivor while eating meals, for instance. Grossing me out isn’t the same as really sticking with me, though, and while I don’t want to take anything away from the authors I enjoy reading every week, I read horror for entertainment and only three books come to mind as having actually horrified me.

I first encountered Pet Sematary by Stephen King while in high school, though the novel was released the year after I was born. I’d been reading horror for a couple of years by this point, was a freshman at a local Catholic high school and routinely broke the religion teacher (a priest)’s balls by ignoring his lessons in favor of Stephen King but still maintaining an ‘A’ average. Even at that age I didn’t lay awake for hours after reading a horror novel or get creeped out by reading about the various bad guys.

However, I almost didn’t finish Pet Sematary, the story of a family’s dealings with an ancient Native American burial ground. I put it down about 2/3 of the way in and couldn’t pick it back up for two months, as I recall. Imagine how gratified I was when I discovered that King almost didn’t publish the book and considers it the most horrifying of his works.

Last year I had the pleasure of personally telling Jack Ketchum how affected I was by his novel The Girl Next Door. In return, he shared with me how affected he was by the real-life story that inspired the book, of a girl in 1965 Indianapolis tortured to death by a family friend and her children. My autographed mass-market paperback of the book is probably my favorite signed book of all because of the impact the story had on me, but I have to admit it’s the book I’m least likely to ever read in public again.

The first time I read the book I didn’t know what to expect; I’d heard good (bad?) things about it, but I read horror daily, you know? There were certain points in the story that I reached while sitting in a large group of people, praying that no one would look over my shoulder and see what a sick freak I was, while at the same time unable to put the damn thing down.

Finally, Succulent Prey by Wrath James White really did me in, to such an extent that I still found myself thinking about it weeks later. It starts out intriguingly enough, with an unorthodox theory about the propagation of serial killers, but quickly degenerates into a horrifying string of brutal cannibal episodes interwoven with the protagonist’s quest to discover whether serial killers create other serial killers.

Wrath’s a good writer, but so are a lot of the other authors I read for fun, too. There’s something about cannibals that really screws with me, though; I guess everyone has their thing, right? For some people, it’s clowns. Succulent Prey not only has the gore-factor going for it, but the emotional impact of the story, especially the end, was the icing on the cake.

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