Weird Fiction or Fiction for Weirdos?

Happy Halloween?

I am a hauntress of bookstores.
I shudder at ghost stories and weird fiction.
I shun 12-foot skeletons on lawns.
I buy candy on sale on All Saints' Day.



Ghost stories and tales of the supernatural are labeled weird fiction.   But weird fiction to me is fiction for weirdos.

I do enjoy some traditional weird fiction.  I recommend Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson.  Benson is well-known for his witty Lucia novels, and the two superb TV series based on these charming books. This prolific writer also wrote tales of the supernatural.   

His most fascinating ghost stories wrestle with the concept of home and haunted houses.  In “Bagnell Terrace,” the narrator loves his quiet neighborhood in London, but he is jealous of his neighbor’s house. The addition of a huge room extends into the yard. How he wishes he had such a room! Finally he has a chance to buy the house, and things begin to go terribly wrong.  In this suspenseful, entertaining ghost story, friendship is the key to survival.

Then there is weird fiction for weirdos. Olga Ravn’s short, moving, poetic novel, The Employees, was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021.  It is at first puzzling. Written in the form of employees’ “statements,“ the novel gradually reveals the import of their statements. The crew are on a spaceship, reporting their reactions to objects they have brought on board from the New Discovery planet.  in the dedication to the book, Ravn reveals that she was inspired by Lea Guldditte Hestelund’s installations and sculptures.

The crew is manned by humans and humanoids: are the humanoids also objects? The relationships between them are touching and affectionate. and their observations of the objects are in sync. But the humanoids get upgrades and uploads and re-uploads and begin to surpass the humans. They begin to avoid the humans. And the humans are saddened by their separation, by their own mortality, and the end of friendship and possibly their race.


Humor will cure the sense of imbalance. I recommend Cornelia Otis Skinner’s Soap Behind the Ears. one of her best collections of humor columns. It is worth buying for her satire of For Whom the Bell Tolls, which she calls For Whom the Gong Sounds. How I wish I’d read this satire when I plowed through Hemingway’s ghastly novel!

Ghosts & Gentle Monsters: Books That Won’t Scare You to Death

In October I peruse gentle ghost stories, or a Victorian Gothic that won’t scare me to death.  I dip into The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, an anthology of tasteful ghost stories, including two by E. Nesbit and Elizabeth Bowen.  I have standards: I  had to banish a Penguin hardcover edition of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Stories, after a mere glance at the horrific contents.

 Below are Recommendations for Wimpy Readers, so  that you may survive Halloween insanity without fainting.

Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly includes “five tales that focus on the haunted men and women rather than on the visitant.”  Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House proves that it is a bad idea for curious people to spend the night in a haunted house.  (The 1963 movie with Julie Harris is chilling; there is also a Netflix show.)  Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend describes the plight of the last man on earth to survive a plague that turned humans into vampires.  (The movie with Will Smith is excellent but I had to leave the theater because it was terrifying. I fared better with this on a smaller screen.)  

And now let us move on to classics everyone has heard of.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula is THE influential vampire classic, and I have an attractive small press edition – remember Capuchin Classics?  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or  The Modern Prometheus, occupies a higher plane, because Shelley’s gracefully-written interpretation of the Prometheus myth inspires compassion for the lonely monster created by Dr. Frankenstein.  Beware of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the hero has a dangerous double personality!  And  I am still fond of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven,”(“Quoth the raven nevermore”), which you can read at The Poetry Foundation

What are you reading for Halloween? More ghosts and goblins, please! 

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