Some books scare you and others dig so deeply under your skin that they change the way you see the world. There’s nothing quite like a slice of metaphysical horror that plays with your expectations, pivots halfway through (or more than once), and shatters your comfort zone. It’s these sorts of books that I search for personally, and am craving the next like some strange hallucinatory drug. Yeah, yeah, there’s House of Leaves, and sure, there’s also American Psycho. We’ve all been there. It’s fine. But if you’re like me, you can never get enough! So let me help you out.
We gathered up some of the most surreal hallucinatory horror books out today.
You’ve Lost A Lot of Blood
LaRocca has quickly become a venerable voice in the modern world of horror. You may be familiar with his breakout hit, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, which is every bit as surreal and claustrophobic as anything on the market.
Their recently released novella, You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood manages to be an entirely different beast while also managing to capture the same qualities LaRocca achieved in his other books to get under your skin and mess with your mind. Written in the form of diary entries and interviews, the novella chronicles what may have happened to two lovers that have disappeared, the wreckage of their past used as material by an “editor” that has sown together this dark tale. LaRocca released the novella as a gift to those who supported Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke—and you know what? It’s the best gift an author could ever give their fans.
This list is simply incomplete without Kathe Koja’s surrealistic horror masterpiece, The Cipher. When the book was first published, it introduced a unique voice in horror to an audience that wasn’t ready. Perhaps we’re only now catching up.
The Cipher’s premise goes like this: Nicholas is a down-and-out clerk with aspirations of being a poet when he and his sort-of girlfriend Nakota discover a hole that seemingly disrupts, destroys, and/or dissects pretty much anything that comes in close contact with it. Dubbed “the Funhole,” Nicholas experiments with the strange oddity much to the reader’s dismay and delight. It’s a devilish premise that has quite the payoff. It's required reading for anyone that wants to read something that’ll mess with your mind.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I’m going to be that person for a second. You know the one. They whine about how the book is better than the film adaptation. In the case of Iain Reid’s incredibly thrilling novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, it’s indeed true. Where the film opts for shades of levity, the book maintains an incredibly bleak and decimating draw.
The premise is the same: A new couple makes the roadtrip to meet the guy’s parents. Along the way, there’s the looming threat of the relationship not working out, or life itself not working out. Reid really ratchets up the stakes and leaves the reader battling double meanings for most of the book. The adaptation took a lot of that away and allowed for more visual imagery, with borderline Kaufmanesque oddity by the end. I’m here to tell you: if you haven’t tried the book, it’s an entirely different experience, one that’s extremely claustrophobic. You’ll start reading and won’t be able to quit until you reach the end.
This Thing Between Us
Moreno’s debut novel is one of those books that lures you in with an idea, only to completely eschew your expectations. At the center of This Thing Between Us is none other than grief, built through the loss of a loved one. Vera, his wife, has passed away. The book cuts any buildup and goes right for the loss and devastation. The couple bought an Itza, similar to or inspired by Amazon’s Alexa device, which becomes the supposed reason for Vera’s death. The device acts oddly and one day causes Vera to be late, resulting in an accident that leaves her in a coma before she finally passes away.
But there’s of course more to what’s going on than a mere faulty piece of technology. Moreno does a great job of causing the reader to suspend disbelief as the details surrounding Vera’s demise reveal themselves.
The Worm and His Kings
Piper is an author that is at the peak of her powers. From Queen of Teeth and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King to the newly released Your Mind is a Terrible Thing, Piper has been writing from a dark place for a legion of readers who simply cannot get enough.
A personal favorite of mine, which happens to be both literally and figuratively claustrophobic, The Worm and His Kings takes readers into the underbelly of New York City. We’re introduced to Monique, a drifter living on the streets of the city; survival isn’t easy but until Donna, her girlfriend’s disappearance, she had made do well enough. As she searches for Donna, Piper takes on a dark and delectable journey this side of Clive Barker and Lewis Carroll, complete with monsters and deadly cults. Piper doesn’t hold back, and I’m thankful that she didn’t! The Worm and His Kings will get under your skin and fester there, like any life-altering horror story should.
This one might be a little bit of an outlier, in that it isn’t conventionally marked as horror. In fact, Mountainhead is ostensibly a travelogue of the author’s experiences as he tries to break away from societal norms by escaping into the wilderness, particularly a mountain in hopes that he may come to know the earth in a manner similar to knowing the touch of another person’s body. The result is a blend of disturbing and exotic adventures in pornography and prostitution, the exploration of human identity against immorality and human limits.
It makes sense that New Juche has gained praise from authors like Dennis Cooper and Thomas Moore; they know of the extent to which self-revelatory writing can be as claustrophobic and haunting as horror fiction. Mountainhead is a book that can sit with the most surrealistic horror tomes with ease. Now imagine what New Juche would do if they decided to outwardly write a piece of horror…
Amor’s range as a writer has never ceased to amaze. Published in 2021 by Cemetery Gates, Six Rooms is a perfect example of how sadistic yet playful she can be. The central character of the book is not of the living; rather, it’s the Sunshire Chateau, a place with a dark past that has now become one of those tourist attractions aimed to entertain the masses with a wholesome scare. The place belonged to one Charles Lester, who happened to be quite the heinous ogre of a man, resulting in a location that harbors more than just secrets; the Sunshire Chateau is alive with ghosts of the past.
The structure Amor uses for the book is refreshingly unique, each room given its story as though the reader is on a tour themselves. Six Rooms has a genuinely layered effect, able to lull you into a compassionate ghost story only to then dig under your skin through a tension palpable enough to leave you stunned by the end of the reading experience.