I believe reading to be an escape from all that which is around us; I also believe reading to be a brief hiatus from society’s norms and our knowledge of what constitutes right and wrong. As an avid reader, I tend to gravitate toward books that challenge my own beliefs system and moral ambiguity, and then test my own acceptance or understanding of what is and is not possible. Therefore, I've assembled a list of some of my favorite books that not only take the reader to a darker side of their mind and soul, but also dare the reader to think beyond what we see around us and what we know and have been taught.
These books have taunted and mocked me psychologically, emotionally and spiritually and have altered my thoughts, taking me to the edge of a darker existence in my mind. Of course, once the book is closed, life resumes normally, but having pushed myself to a limit with such bizarre material has broadened my intellect and understanding of that which, in reality, isn’t always understood.
by Gillian Flynn
No book has ever bothered me psychologically and emotionally as much as Flynn’s second novel. The brutal murders of a mother and her two daughters are blamed on the oldest son and his interest in Satanism. The youngest and only surviving daughter – whose testimony put her brother in prison - begins questioning what she saw that night and whether her testimony was accurate. Family secrets are revealed and the suspenseful flashbacks to that night display the mother and daughters as tragic victims of circumstance.
by V.C. Andrews
Following her husband’s untimely death, a mother returns to her childhood home and sends her four children to live in the attic and out of sight. The children slowly become sickened as it is discovered their food is being poisoned so the mother can remarry and start anew. The oldest sister and brother begin an uncomfortable incestuous relationship and serve as the parents in their newly formed family. How much more disturbing can this book be?
by Chuck Palahniuk
It was difficult to choose one Chuck Palahniuk novel, but this one stands out. A model loses part of her face and jaw in a tragic accident and then takes up with society-be-damned character who guides the model in recreating herself to fit her new form. The disturbing and graphic descriptions of this journey and the characters met along the way challenge the reader’s acceptance of what is and is not possible in this society. Just when you think you’ve figured everything out, Palahniuk throws a curve ball so bizarre that the reader challenges everything he/she already has read.
by Bret Easton Ellis
He’s an upstanding, respectable business man who enjoys the finer things in life – facials, designer suits and power tools used as murder weapons. Go inside the mind of a metro-sexual psychopath in this deliciously dark novel that will make you question everything (and everyone) you already know. Sometimes looking normal doesn’t exactly mean being normal.
by Mark Z. Danielewski
In this novel, a manuscript which delves into the supernatural aspects of a documentary film that doesn’t appear to exist in the material world is discovered and studied by a tattoo shop apprentice. After reading the manuscript, the apprentice finds himself altered in his thinking and his perception of all those around him. The bizarre imagery and the apprentice’s antics regarding the manuscript will keep you guessing and always questioning what is and isn’t real.
by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Reading it as a child, I loved it. Now, as an adult, I realize how incredibly frightening this book is. Children are punished in the most creative and eerie ways as a result of their insolence while touring Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Wonka’s own demeanor is as terrifying as it is humorous. A chocolate river does sound good, but don’t fall in it.
by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward
In this classic, the lead character shows his self to have no remorse or emotion in any facet, even when his mother dies. After a homicidal altercation, the trial proceedings take you on a trip inside the mind of this sociopath when the jury tries to determine the frightening truth of whether this man knows right from wrong and good from evil.
by Thomas Harris
Of the Hannibal Lecter series, this installment is my favorite. The uncomfortable and disturbing thoughts behind this installment are not a result of the graphic violence, cannibalism or slicing of the brain as the victim continues to be alert, but rather the creepy love story that develops between Hannibal and Agent Clarice Starling. Even though she knows what he has done in the past and of what he is capable, Starling proceeds to fall in love with Hannibal the Cannibal and run away with him to live happily ever after. That is disturbing on so many levels.
by Gillian Flynn
Flynn’s first novel set the tone for her career – bizarre, unthinkable events resulting in bizarre, unthinkable conclusions. Sharp Objects sets the tone early when a psychologically damaged reporter fresh out of a mental facility returns to her hometown to cover the strange murders of two girls. What makes the murders so strange is the fact that the girls’ teeth had been pried out of their mouths. Not only the murders themselves, but the ominous discovery of the killer and the killer’s MO is even more haunting and sure to weigh heavily on the reader.
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