A new year is upon us, and whether you’re new to reading the scary stuff, or an experienced pro, we’ve mapped out your 2023 horror adventure by curating a monthly flight of delectable pairings for those drawn to the winding path into that dark, enticing woodland…
For the month that conjures cold in all its forms, we commence with a bold pairing that epitomizes a primary essence of horror: isolation.
We start with Stranded by Bracken MacLeod, the tale of a science vessel marooned on ice, a mysterious crew illness, and a distant shape that may herald their salvation or destruction. A prickly, astringent finish awaits.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu. A darker, more monstrous reimagining of the Donor Party, we’re stalked by uncanny notes of dread culminating in a chaotic but hearty flourish.
Ah, the love month. A chance for cupid’s bloody arrow to pierce our hearts not once, but twice!
We begin our sojourn into passion with Helpmeet by Naben Ruthhum, a plummy, Victorian-era blend in which a devoted wife copes with the physical disintegration of her husband. An unctuous, opulent undertaking of love conquering all.
The less rosy, wonderfully spicy The Method by Duncan Ralston. A couple’s attempt to save their macerating marriage by undergoing a radical therapy program at a secluded resort serves a veritable bouquet of angular, febrile nuances that loiter.
The first blush of spring conjures traipses through nature and weddings, and this tannic duet endeavors to deliver on these expectations.
Up first, the Argentine import of Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin, a briary aeration of poisoned waters and altered minds where the tension of the unknown leaves the sampler wading in multifarious aftertastes.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. A twenty-something couple and their friends journey to Japan to get married in a haunted house, only to learn that cultural trauma transcends all time. A heady, aged sample with backbone to spare.
What better way to celebrate a month of blood sacrifice and resurrection than with this sanguinary twosome.
Taking the first shot is Gabino Iglesias with his violent montage novel of spiritual trips and bloody vengeance in the American Southwest, Coyote Songs. A more muscular descent into furious inebriation you’ll rarely experience.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
The even fuller-bodied offering of Max Brooks’s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. The Bible has got nothing on this worldwide reawakening of the dead and its global documentation-as-novel epic. Wholly aggressive, fleshy, and with a start-to-finish cherry-red bite.
For the month that celebrates motherhood, two elegant offerings to quench the palate and prove that even under Mom’s nurturing arms, no one is truly safe.
Exhibit one, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, a battle of wills between a mother and her precocious, possibly evil seven-year-old daughter. A grippy, textured experience that demands savoring.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman, the apocalyptic journey of a pregnant woman and her two adopted foundlings trying to survive blindfolded in a world of supernatural creatures whose very glimpsing will drive one insane. Forget the color—you can’t see it anyway: this smoky sample brings legs and zest for days.
The Ballad of Black Tom
The start of summer. Fancies of Central Park rambles and personal transformation abound. But this is horror, and these fancies mask terrors.
Unveiled first is Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, a Jazz-Age rebuke of Lovecraftian racism with an African-American protagonist able to summon the power of the Old Ones himself. Simmering with subversive notes of graphite and wet asphalt.
The Worm and His Kings
The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper, another tart cosmic-horror offering, substituting bland Lovecraftian tropes for a determined young woman searching for her missing girlfriend in New York’s subterranean bowels of otherworldly denizens. A shuddering harmony of the creamy and acidic.
The Good House
Luxuriating in the nostalgia of 4th of July picnics and summer vacations, this next disturbing duo certainly flex their earthy, peppery zings.
Tananarive Due’s sublime The Good House proves that a home can ferment trauma as a present-day tragedy awakens ordeals seven generations older to have their say again. Aswirl in sage and mature perfume that never cloys.
My Best Friend's Exorcism
The cheesy wistfulness of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism guises an edgy undercurrent that tests the friendship of two high-school girls on a collision course with Satan. Nutty and steely 80s fare that compliments its burning finale.
The Trouble with Being Born
The lack of any notable holiday suggests a form of, shall we dare, festive nihilism. The drier, muskier nose of non-fiction thus rules this month.
The Trouble with Being Born by E.M. Cioran is our first lot, a daring, jammy 1973 Romanian varietal that posits birth as the source of all suffering and despair.
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti, a tarrier, more pungent bouquet suggesting that humans use horror as an unguent against the meaninglessness of our existence. Brazenly oaky and not for the soft of palate.
The Wasp Factory
Not only the start of fall, but the start of school, ergo: kid horror!
Matriculating first, The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, a 1984 Scottish vintage of a teenage sociopath who fashions a contraption from salvaged junk to trap and kill wasps, which eventually impels him to kill other children. Sharp, crisp, and fiercely inventive.
The Troop by Nick Cutter. A traditional field trip to the Canadian wilderness soon devolves into emaciated strangers and delicious, primal gore. A younger, blood-forward expression augmented by a tinny bio-disease burn.
What Moves the Dead
The pinnacle month for all things creepy and spooky, we begin with a modern retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” with T. Kingfisher’s What Moves the Dead. When a childhood friend of the brother/sister duo living in Usher House arrives for a visit, he’s greeted with a mysterious fungus, a possessed lake, and the reanimated dead. Decants to a musty, noble-rot climax.
The Ghost Sequences
The collection The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise. These rich, robust, velvety sips will haunt the palate for hours after.
The start of fall and the culmination of harvests brings us a pair of thicker-skinned, structured varietals.
Up first, the set-in-Detroit, South African import Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, a horror-thriller of obsession and social satire that starts with the discovery of a boy’s body fused with a deer. Blunt up front, with a tough, lean delay that satisfies.
The Only Good Indians
Another corvine presentation: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. Four Native-American men haunted by a traumatic experience must navigate their fading friendship, political bigotry, and ghosts imagined and real. An exceptionally raw, cedary, ultimately textured affair.
The holidays mean get-togethers with family and friends, and our final pairing celebrates this with two classic no horror cellar can do without.
First up, Ghost Story Peter Straub’s magnum-opus. A quartet of old men gather to exchange ghost stories until real, vengeful spirits from the past return to stalk them. Fragmented yet cohesive, rustic yet supple. Quintessential holiday fare.
"The Breathing Method" in Different Seasons
Stephen King’s "The Breathing Method", a novella in his collection Different Seasons. The terroir of friends gathering to share ghost stories is again explored, this of a doctor recalling a patient’s unusual and grizzly labor. Sweet at the start, only to coldcock in the end with a full-bodied, fortified conclusion.