MyAmericanFuture

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MyAmericanFuture

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29-30, 2011: Boo(ks)!

Since Monday will be the October Recap, this weekend’s the time for a holiday post, on five of the scariest works of or moments in American literature (in chronological order):

1)      Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland, or the Transformation (1798): Brown’s novel suffers from some seriously over-wrought prose, and it can be hard to take its narrator seriously as a result; the pseudo-scientific resolution of its central mystery also leaves a good bit to be desired. But since that central mystery involves a husband and father who turns into a murderous psychopath bent on destroying his own idyllic home and family, well, none of those flaws can entirely take away the spookiness.

2)      Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839): Just about any Poe story would fit in this space. But given how fully this story’s scares depend precisely on the idea of what reading and art can do to the human imagination and psyche of their susceptible audiences, it seems like a good choice.

3)      Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery” (1948): I don’t think there’s anything scarier, in the world or in the imagination, than what people are capable of doing to each other. And Jackson’s story is probably the most concise and perfect exemplification of that idea in American literary history. I’ve read arguments that connect it to the Holocaust, which makes sense timing-wise; but I’d say the story is purposefully, and terrifyingly, more universal than that.

4)      Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt” (1950; don’t know why the font is so small in that online version, but you can always copy and paste and then enlarge—it’s worth it!): The less I give away about Bradbury’s story, the better. Suffice it to say it’s a pretty good argument for not having kids, or at least for only letting them play with very basic and non-technological toys. Ah well, that ship has sailed for me.

5)      Mark Danielewksi, House of Leaves (2000; not an online version, but my prior blog post): As I wrote in that earlier post, Danielewksi’s novel is thoroughly post-modern and yet entirely terrifying at the same time. Don’t believe it’s possible? Read the book—but try to keep some lights on, or maybe just read outside, while you do.

More Monday, that October recap,

Ben

PS. Any scary stories you’d highlight?

2 comments:

  1. OK, Ben, since I have internet back, I'll bite. I realize this is super very lowbrow, but to this day, Stephen King's Pet Semetery scares the hell out of me. I remember reading it the first time and actually coaching the characters to make different choices because of the possible consequences. A few years ago, I decided to read it again during a summer vacation to see if it held up. My family were at a small cottage in a state park in Pennsylvania--no street lights, huge backyard, path in the backyard that seemed to go on and on all the way to an old quarry and then further. If you've read the book, it was bizarrely similar. Yeah, the book held up. Fortunately, the only pets around were bears in the backyard. Still, wicked scary.

    Great post, as always. Irene

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  2. I just taught "The Lottery" in my RDG 100 classes, and I have House of Leave on the outside reading list for my ENG 101 class -- I am really hoping someone chooses it!

    I don't have any additional scary stories to add, since I live alone and am too affected by scary stories to read them. The only assigned book in college that I didn't read was The Dante Club, for precisely that reason. Unfortunately, I had to read House of Leaves, because, well, I couldn't not read a book that you assigned :-p I also had to read And Then There Were None, because I needed to teach it a couple of years ago. So, hey, yeah -- my addition to this list of scary story is that novel!

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