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My New Book!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October 29, 2019: ScaryStudying: Five Masterpieces

[Following up the weekend’s great Guest Post, for this year’s Halloween series I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of scary stories and their contexts. Hope you all have a boo-tiful holiday!]

My nominees for five of the scariest works in American literary history (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 long since sailed for me.

5)      Mark Danielewksi, House of Leaves (2000): As I wrote in yesterday’s 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.
Next scary story tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other scary stories you’d share?


  1. PPS. Five scary story suggestions from Danielle Cofer (

    1. Sherwood Anderson’s “Death in the Woods”
    2. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Wives of the Dead”
    3. Joyce Carol Oates’s “Love, Forever”
    4. Tananarive Due’s “Ghost Summer”
    5. William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

  2. PPPS. John Buass ( adds:

    Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (frightening in a Christian-existentialist sense)

    Faulkner, "That Evening Sun"

  3. PPPPS. And Caitlin Duffy ( adds:

    Some American ones that aren't SUPER obvious (ok, maybe a little?)...

    Louisa May Alcott - "A Whisper in the Dark"
    Charles Chesnutt - "Po' Sandy"
    Nathaniel Hawthorne - "The Minister's Black Veil"
    Joyce Carol Oates - "The Doll Master"
    Ambrose Bierce- "The Damned Thing"
    George Washington Cable - "The Haunted House in Royal Street"
    Stephen King- "Sometimes They Come Back"