Beyond the Walls of Horror

February 5th, 2012

Horror isn’t a genre. It’s an ingredient. A seasoning. Such things have been pointed out before, most notably by Douglas Winter in Revelations (1997), but a quick look at this year’s Bram Stoker Award™ Preliminary Ballot shows that it bears repeating.

This year the short-fiction jury has selected three strong works from mainstream publications, Ramona Ausubel’s “Atria” (New Yorker, April 4), George Saunders’s “Home” (New Yorker, June 13) and Stephen King’s “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” (The Atlantic, May).

The past year also saw Zoetrope All-Story Magazine and Granta putting out special Horror Issues, featuring writers not generally associated with the genre, but most turning in work that puts the ingredients to good use.

Beyond these examples, I’m often struck by passages of genuine horror that I frequently encounter in works that have never been marketed or labeled as such. Most notably Augusten Burroughs’s chilling memoir A Wolf at the Table and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (both books from past years that I have only recently gotten around to reading).

The take-away, of course, is that some of the best opportunities for readers and writers of horror lie well beyond the genre walls.

Do you agree? Got a work you’d like to recommend?

As always, the comment box is open.

  1. This entry was posted on Sunday, February 5th, 2012 at 5:14 pm and is filed under 21st-Century Scop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Beyond the Walls of Horror”

  1. Absolutely, Lawrence—horror can’t be confined to a “genre.” Actually, I have to say I like your use of the word “ingredient” better than Winter’s use of the word “emotion”, because, while Winter is right, “ingredient” speaks to horror’s dynamic role in writing, in the act of it.

    Ausubel’s is a name that’s come up three times in the past two days–first in reading the review of her new novel in Sunday’s New York Times, then tonight in a post from my friend the wonderful Poet Doug Anderson who had her as a former student, and now again in your article here. I will have to read her now.

    As for “non horror horror” books to recommend, I have to go with Dan Chaon. I know his ‘Stay Awake’ ( just out) is getting lots of attention and reviewers are unabashedly using the “h” word in describing it—I haven’t read it yet, so my Chaon-vote here goes for his collection ‘Among the Missing.’ The title story contains one of the two moments in ANY writer’s work that made me literally drop the book from my hand from how much it unnerved me; the other was a scene in James’ ‘The Mezzotint’, and both moments were understated, “quiet horror”, where “quiet” feels like a misnomer.

    Thanks for this good article, and for pointing out that the door in and out of the horror genre should always be an open one.


  2. Lawrence C. Connolly says:

    As is often the case, some readers have chosen to reply via Facebook (where I always post links to these Scop posts). Among their non-Horror recommendations are James Dickey’s novel Deliverance and John Cheever’s short stories “The Enormous Radio” and “The Hartleys” — all of which I strongly recommend.

    Also, by way of expanding on some of the things in my original post and David Surface’s terrific follow-up comment, is an essay by Kim Wright titled “Why Are So Many Literary Writers Shifting into Genre?” You can read it here:

    Got some titles you’d like to recommend? The comment box is open!

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