Forget Kevin Spacey was in the movie, The Usual Suspects. Or that Bryan Singer directed it. Great. Now, can we talk about how this is one of the greatest screenplays ever written? A film released in 1995, twenty-seven years ago, and I will never forget the name Keyser Soze. That ending. That moment when meek, mild, and physically disabled Verbal Kint walks out of his police interrogation, makes his way down the block, and suddenly, his limp is less pronounced. He flexes his withered hand and lights a cigarette. His demeanor changes. The audience begins to realize what all of this means. Their minds are racing through every scene, trying to make sense of what they’re seeing. There’s that line,
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
Now that you know, you have to go right back to the beginning of the movie and watch it all over again. How? How did you miss the clues? Were there any signs pointing to this shocking conclusion? Now that you know, now that you have all the information, would the entire movie experience feel different?
It would. How many times have you seen The Sixth Sense? After you know, you always know and there’s no going back to before when you didn’t and the movie was, different.
Books do this too!
Here are my recommendations for books that need to be read all over again the minute you read the last line. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything. I won’t even mention if there is a plot twist or if it’s a plot twist that got the book on this list. All you need to know is that some aspect of the story significantly makes a serious impact on the way you would read the book if you knew it all along. All of these books are psychological thrillers with strong elements of horror.
If you read Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk a second time, it is not the same story you finished the first time. Information gathered upon your first reading can then be applied during the second reading, illuminating even the smallest details in a new way. The narrator suffers from insomnia due to his high-stress job. As part of his therapy, he starts attending a support group. The narrator (we never know his name) meets some intense people; a woman named Maria and a man named Tyler. The trio’s lives become very entangled. An underground Fight Club becomes the catalyst for the eventual, shocking conclusion. Trust me, this book is even more mind-blowing than the movie—even if you’ve seen the adaptation and you know things, you should read the book, especially if it has been a while.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is a book that reveals its secrets slowly. The first read is glorious. I can’t even begin to explain how utterly absorbing this story is for readers. Lehane’s dark, gothic, atmospheric storytelling is unrelenting; every turn of the page is an invitation to keep going. A U.S. Marshal and his partner visit an isolated psychiatric hospital for convicted criminals to investigate a report of a patient who has escaped. The more the two men learn, the more mysteries are uncovered, some involving the U.S. Marshal personally. By the time you finish the book, you already feel like you need to go back and find the clues you missed.
Behind Her Eyes
The narrator Louise in Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, meets a man in a bar and the attraction escalates quickly. After a night of heavy flirting and magnetic chemistry, the two share a kiss, but the passion is immediately doused when the man admits he is married. Even though they go their separate ways, they are thrown back together in a work-related situation and Louise ultimately befriends the man’s wife. There is no way to anticipate where this story will go but once you unlock some of its secrets, it’s fun to go back and re-read certain scenes with your newly discovered information.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Similar to Palahniuk’s Fight Club, the narrator’s name in I’m Thinking of Ending Things is not given. Our narrator is a woman riding in the car with her partner on the way to his family’s house during a snowstorm. The narrator’s inner thoughts and her dialogue with Jake are what move the story along and provide the most information about their relationship. Once they get to Jake’s childhood home, things get weird. And then weirder. Ultimately, weirder still. Once the book is over, there is an invite from the author to just start over and do it all again. Which, you will.
The Last House on Needless Street
The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward is the newest book on my list. This story begins by introducing the reader to two different people living very separate lives. Dee is a woman who lost her sister on a family trip to a beach several years ago.
Ted is a recluse living at home with his daughter and their cat. Eventually, Dee closes in on Ted as a potential suspect in her sister’s disappearance. And that’s all I can really say about the plot. Readers will develop theories as to what is happening and the fun is in the big reveals and how those require the reader to think back on earlier scenes and situations and how those theories could have been different. Multiple reads are necessary.
My mom gave me her copy of Gone Girl and said, “Call me”. Upon starting it, I was immediately invested in the complicated lives and marriage of Nick and his wife Amy. At some point, I turned the page, read a little bit, had a moment of jaw-dropping shock & awe—definitely called my mom so I could freak out about what I learned. One of the biggest “Holy Sh_t” moments in a book ever. Once you find out what you didn’t know in the beginning, it’s tempting to go back and read for all the signs you may have missed. The lies. The subtle deceptions. This was my first Gillian Flynn book and the others were great too—one of the best masters of suspense and clever twists. I judge almost all psychological thrillers by this standard.
The Library at Mount Char
This book requires a lot from its readers and does not coddle anyone’s inability to keep up or follow along. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is at its core a dark fantasy similar in style to Neil Gaiman. In fact, it would sit right next to American Gods on the shelf in my library. Gifted or peculiar orphans are adopted and trained to be godlike by someone known as “Father”. When Father goes missing, the “siblings” ultimately wage war against each other to see who will be Father’s successor and carry on the legacy; wielding great power. This book steps on the gas at page one and keeps the pedal to the metal the whole ride; unrelenting intensity. If you knew in the beginning what you learn at the end, this book would be a whole different experience.