“Is evil something you are? Or is it something you do?”
April 10, 2015 6:17 PM   Subscribe

What are the most disturbing novels? [The Guardian] [Books] Guardian Books discusses disturbing reads:
"Bret Easton Ellis has haunted some of our readers for days, and on the books desk we’re still getting over certain depictions of dangerous obsessions and hellish orgies. Which fiction has most unnerved you?"
posted by Fizz (220 comments total) 101 users marked this as a favorite
 
House of Leaves, House of Leaves, and House of Leaves. I'm not sure I'm capable of describing any other book as disturbing until I find another, better word for House of Leaves.
posted by Sequence at 6:21 PM on April 10, 2015 [23 favorites]


Brief interviews with hideous men ruined me for years.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I went through my big Bret Easton Ellis phase at age 17 or 18 and read all his books out at the time (Glamorama had just come out I think.) I guess I wasn't worldly (?) enough for the violence/sexual violence to resonate enough with me to disturb me. Like, I remember scenes and passages from the novels -- Glamorama especially descends into an (at times literal) orgy of almost cartoonish hyperviolence -- and I definitely wouldn't be able to re-read it today, but I wonder if for certain people it's better to encounter that stuff earlier to just get it out of the way.
posted by griphus at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Came for The Wasp Factory, was not disappointed.
posted by asterix at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2015 [20 favorites]


How can there be no mention of Matthew Stokoe? There's really not much that disturbs me, but "Cows" and "High Life" are Fucked. Up.
posted by dersins at 6:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Certain scenes in The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, by Angela Carter. Absolutely brilliant writer, which is why scenes have stuck with me like poisoned thorns.
posted by datawrangler at 6:27 PM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


House of Leaves has a kind of subtle terror that screws with your brain.
The Wasp Factory's last few pages will curdle milk.
Birdman by Mo Hayder is a novel that I actually had to put down at various chapters and walk away from because of what certain characters do within that story.
posted by Fizz at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm under the impression Bret Easton Ellis is a pretty disturbing person---huge narcissist and desperate for attention and all.
posted by discopolo at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, after reading Requiem For A Dream (at the same age, surprisingly enough) I gave it to a friend of mine and told her it was amazing and she should read it and that I never wanted that book in my house again. That book cost me a part of my soul.
posted by griphus at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm feeling left out.
posted by localroger at 6:31 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Blind Owl, at a very young age, is probably the only book that really disturbed me. It took several days to put myself back together.
posted by switchbladenaif at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh. I've read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle repeatedly, no problem. But I had to put down Cryptonomicon and never, ever return due to the dog vivisection section that seemed to have no end in sight. I also dropped Perdido Street Station and haven't touched China Mieville's stuff since, partly because the mood seemed so bleak and hopeless, but partly because gruesome and protracted dog vivisection scene seemed so believably just around the corner.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


The rat/cheese scene in American Psycho. I was so relieved they left it out of the film adaptation.
posted by candyland at 6:39 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Never Let Me Go. It haunts me.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:39 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I wasn't so much disturbed as Meh'ed by Oryx and Crake. I know everyone loves it, but meh.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:39 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


For a while, I would occasionally think, 'Hell, what does Bret Easton Ellis tell his mother he does?' which is so unlike me but I think spoke the the basic level of wrongness I felt reading American Psycho.

The worst part is, I read AP after seeing the movie, hoping the grotesquerie would make the vague awfulness of a certain scene easier to handle. Nope, just as vague in the book, plus more, worse scenes.

Thinking, well, let's give it a second shot, I tried to read Less Than Zero. The 'nope' gif wasn't around then, but that's pretty much what I did. Like one of the Guardian responses, couldn't bring myself to donate it or leave it on the curb.

I did give away my copy of House of Leaves, though, because I couldn't imagine slogging through it again.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:42 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gah, Naked Lunch. Still don't get what's so great about it. Wish I could unread some things...
posted by misozaki at 6:43 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay so for horror-horror, it's movies that get me, not books, so I have to be really careful about movies or they stick with me forever. But in terms of books, Nella Larsen's Passing was horrifying to me with its creeping sense of dread as the character gets deeper and deeper into the inevitable repercussions of "passing" ... I could not go to bed until I finished reading it and then I could not go to sleep when I did, and thinking about it still makes me start to hyperventilate with fear. "The Awakening" and "The Yellow Wallpaper" come close and hit the same sort of spot in my brain with women at the mercy of the vicissitudes of men, but "Passing" just has such a horrifying inevitability of violence from its very first page, I can hardly stand to even think about it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is still taking up space in my brain, which I didn't read until I was probably 32, and GAAAAAAAH. GAAAAAAAH.

Also World War Z because I am fucking terrified of zombies and pandemics.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


A.M. Holmes, anyone? I couldn't get more than a few chapters in to End of Alice, my skin was crawling so hard.
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


And Almost Transparent Blue by the other Murakami is another novel that I wish I could unread. I like Ryu Murakami as essayist and TV host but god I hate his fiction.
posted by misozaki at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jerzy Kosiński, "Cockpit". I felt that the author was truly a sociopath in order to have been capable of writing this.
posted by thelonius at 6:49 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


None of the books that disturbed me made the list, but I'll be sure to avoid all of those on the list. For books I finished, Lord of the Flies still bugs me; I identified with Simon, and it thus became inevitable.

Two books have disturbed me so much I stopped reading them and refused to go back. Firstly, A Game of Thrones (the actual first book). Ironically, my "forget this book, burn it, salt the ground upon which it fell" moment was the same moment one of the writers of the TV Series became invested - about 50 pages in. I already hated just about everyone on the page, and the death of a character was just a bridge too far. It was making me miserable to try to read it. The other was the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, where the reasons for him becoming a rapist and his response to raping someone who helped him just infuriated me.

I suspect in both cases a large part of the problem is that I don't find the suffering of others and the examination of disgusting evil to be interesting; I don't mind a flawed protagonist, but I dislike an evil protagonist and watching a number of evil protagonists recently become outright heroes / love interests to people has solidified my dislike of the trope.

Books that disturb me in a way that leads me to love them - The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin (which is glory) and the novella The Voice by Anne Bishop.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:50 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


Wasp Factory! I loved/was mesmerized by that book when I read it in high school. I picked it up again a few years ago -- well into my 40s -- and could not even get through the first chapter. I just.

Gah.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 6:50 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Vorrh, by Brian Catling. So many fucked up dreams.
posted by hototogisu at 6:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most of these books I would qualify as enjoyable beach reads, but I read a lot of horror as a teenager. Oryx and Crake horrifying?

I would put 120 Days of Sodom in the list of disturbing novels, but mostly because it manages to make repeated atrocities boring, much like American Psycho (the movie is so much richer).

McCarthy's The Road is pretty damn bleak, even for me.

Vollman's Whores for Gloria made me want to take a shower.

Malamud's God's Grace has one of the bleakest endings ever.
posted by benzenedream at 6:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay I just read the "Guts" short story from the links in the article and it made me laugh. It didn't seem horrifying, just ridiculous. Am I a bad person?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I picked it up again a few years ago -- well into my 40s -- and could not even get through the first chapter. I just.

a friend tried to get me to read it when i was maybe 20?21? and i was just like "this is the worst thing you have ever done to me and i banish you from my presence forever"

what a godawful book
posted by poffin boffin at 6:57 PM on April 10, 2015


The other was the first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant,

Yeah. I wrote The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect and found The Wasp Factory brilliant and American Psycho hilarious but the CTC rape scene just left me WTF, that came out of nowhere and I have no interest in this.
posted by localroger at 6:59 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Peter Sotos in an easy walk.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:59 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia entry for Hogg.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:02 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


I read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant when I was in my early teens and all I can remember now is that I thought it was good, if somewhat bleak. Maybe I should go back and read it again just to see what's so disturbing about it...
posted by misozaki at 7:03 PM on April 10, 2015


I wrote about reading Dennis Cooper in a class before. TL:DR; I stopped at the manual disembowelment.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:04 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Saramago's Blindness is another one; we were assigned it in a class about dystopia and I mildly resent having had to read it. I mean the fact that the novel takes places in basically an aquarium full of human feces scratched a certain 'transgressive' itch but what semblance of plot it had was boring and I couldn't really get anything out of it. It didn't help that I spent the whole novel anticipating the inevitable sexual assault scene and yep there it was right on time.
posted by griphus at 7:09 PM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


The problem with the Thomas Covenant rape is that it was "justified." Now of course we only have Covenant as an unreliable narrator but it's still heavily implied that if you were afflicted by a disease that made sex impossible for decades and then suddenly found it possible, confronted with a nice girl trying to help you you might be overcome by the sudden possibility and just be unable to resist...

Um, no, it doesn't work that way. I am an actual sadist and it doesn't work that way for me, and I'm sure it doesn't work that way for most normal people either. This is an appeal to horny teenage boys who might be tempted to go rapey TC if they thought they could get away with it and I suppose the rest of the series is supposed to be about Why That Was A Bad Idea, but I just couldn't identify. No protagonist ID == no interest in the rest of the story.
posted by localroger at 7:12 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


"The Mote in God's Eye" makes a pretty good argument for the ultimate inevitability of civilization ending nuclear war. Worse is the acceptance of that inevitabillity. The genetic engineering of meats is among the bleakest ideas I've ever come across.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:14 PM on April 10, 2015


Except maybe for The Wasp Factory, I don't find any of the listed novels to be disturbing.

The first thing to leap to mind isn't a novel but a short story: Paul Bowles's "A Distant Episode".
posted by painquale at 7:15 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know how some people say that Alan Moore is obsessed with rape? That's how I feel about the novels of John Barnes, whose work I otherwise enjoyed until I started noticing, shall we say, a certain pattern.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm feeling left out.
posted by localroger at 6:31 PM on April 10
Metamorphosis totally fucked with my head. It's been years and I still think of it. That zombie opener, sheesh. Are... are you still going to do Transmigration?

I liked the Passage series too.
posted by books for weapons at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2015


Well if we're doing shorts then it was Stephen King's Apt Pupil that broke my shit. I thought I was OK with it and then, a few hours later, just started crying and completely lost my shit. There but for the grace of God I suppose.
posted by localroger at 7:18 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Transmigration is still in the pipeline. Like the original it's working on its owh schedule and I dare not force it, lest it be crappy.
posted by localroger at 7:19 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ellis novels used to sit around in vast piles next to cookbooks for the most recently debunked health fad diet in the remainder section of my favorite Barnes and Noble.

The only really disturbing things about them was that they managed to get published at all.

Ellis' writings about violence were like sex scenes written by virgins; for levels of verisimilitude they were roughly comparable to Road Runner cartoons.

But I think they did serve to reassure a readership of overwrought suburbanites by interposing a glass-like wall of emotional deadness between the reader and laughably high-concept and museum-diorama static set pieces that pretended to be realistic evocations of violence.
posted by jamjam at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


what a godawful book

I think my favorite part of The Wasp Factory isn't even the book itself, it's the blurbs at the front of the paperback. They alternate between "This is awesome! Banks is a genius!" and "This is a revolting, wretched book and no one should read it ever."
posted by asterix at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yoko Ogawa's short story collection The Diving Pool is chilling as hell. Spaced out in the middle of what I was doing for days afterwards struck again by a scene. Cannot recommend it enough.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's how I feel about the novels of John Barnes, whose work I otherwise enjoyed until I started noticing, shall we say, a certain pattern.

They're not all like that, though! Hence James Nicoll's comment:
John Barnes is incredibly variable. Pete's Rule (Never buy a Barnes with sodomy in it) is a good one but unfortunately the publisher does not put that kind of stuff on the cover.
posted by asterix at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ellis' writings about violence were like sex scenes written by virgins; for levels of verisimilitude they were roughly comparable to Road Runner cartoons.

Be fair, though, compared to E.L. James he is a fucking master of his art. Whatever that is.
posted by localroger at 7:25 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now v. much enjoying the idea that Bret Easton Ellis novels are rebranded fanfic attempting to be in some way romantic.

Like it turns out that "Patrick Bateman" is just AU Alex P. Keaton.
posted by griphus at 7:33 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ellis novels are disturbingly bad, but I'd never call them disturbing.

Angela Carter is a writer I really like, but I can see how some of her work could be legitimately disturbing.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:37 PM on April 10, 2015


I read Pet Semetary way back in high school. Now that I have a boy of my own that novel has really come back to haunt me.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:40 PM on April 10, 2015


Like it turns out that "Patrick Bateman" is just AU Alex P. Keaton.

I've always assumed this without ever having read the book.
posted by angeline at 7:44 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm going to hold out Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Two reasons.

One: it is obvious to the reader what is going on, but the narrator does not or will not express it until the final page. This is not a "twist ending" or "shocking reveal." It is instead the collapse of the narrator's ability to distance himself from the events he is writing about. In many ways, this is the quintessential Lovecraft story, in which order gives way to madness.

Two: Lovecraft refers obliquely to so many things. You have to read carefully to realize that Joseph Curwen hopes to recover the "essential salts" of Benjamin Franklin in order to torture Franklin's secrets from him. Once you look beyond the narrator's deliberately sterile prose, you understand that Lovecraft was hinting at a larger world than you can imagine.
posted by SPrintF at 7:49 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Obscene Bird of Night--Jose Donoso
posted by thivaia at 7:53 PM on April 10, 2015


Wow, I just read 'American Psycho' only last month after hearing about it for many years. I felt pretty um weird after reading it. The deconstruction of Reaganomics & Narcissism is actually quite brilliant, and he's a talented writer. But all of that cruel torture stuff is just not my thing. Chuck seems to be wagging his tail along this path.

I sometimes have mixed feelings about William Burroughs, a real poetic genius who wrote some stuff that I didn't really like very much, but in very elegant prose.

Angela Carter deserved a Nobel prize for literature.
posted by ovvl at 7:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


william volmann, the royal family - a lot of it is objectively horrible for anyone, but the last 100 pages or so were personally searing for me because i'd been through something very much like that and knew how the person felt and why he was doing what he was doing

ayn rand, atlas shrugged - i don't have to explain that, do i?

and i gave up on the game of thrones series
posted by pyramid termite at 7:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, a piece of me has been trying to deal with Sanctuary (William Faulkner) for about twenty years now.
posted by thivaia at 7:55 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I picked up Red Dragon on some hotel take-a-book-exchange shelf and the opening scene(s) scared the bejeebers out of me.
posted by jquinby at 7:56 PM on April 10, 2015


I read Thomas Paine's bowdlerization of Mark Twain's novella The Mysterious Stranger at church camp. I was incredibly unnerved for the rest of the session.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:59 PM on April 10, 2015


I feel like Kij Johnson has written some of the most disturbing stuff I've read in the last few years, specifically "Ponies". Other than that, Perdido Street Station's creepiness has haunted me since I read it in ~2009, especially the body-modification-as-punishment-and-enslavement stuff and also the ending.
posted by Tesseractive at 7:59 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Okay I just read the "Guts" short story from the links in the article and it made me laugh. It didn't seem horrifying, just ridiculous. Am I a bad person?

Well, you're not alone at least. When I read it, I was grossed out, but it mostly had me rolling my eyes and laughing in an exasperated sort of way. It read as sophomoric, self-consciously edgy gross-out fare to me, the kind of thing that would get posted to some Reddit creepypasta thread.

Like Sequence, as soon as I read "What are the most disturbing novels?" I went House of Leaves House of Leaves House of Leaves. Many of its disparate parts are variously annoying, boring, convoluted, trying too hard, and too pomo to bear, but that core story burrows into some dark part of you and stays there so that every time you hear the word labyrinth, you feel a little uneasy.
posted by yasaman at 7:59 PM on April 10, 2015


Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis. I can't really explain why it got up my nose like it did; I guess it's a combination of body horror + cuddly widdle aminals + evil genius + tragedy.
posted by workerant at 8:10 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


A few books have really creeped me out as I read them. I remember thinking "Ick" in the middle of "Pet Sematary". But only for a couple have I remembered the disturbingness as the rest of the writing wasn't that memorable.

So, today, when I think creepy or disturbing, I think of two books:

"Under the Skin" - the combination of the transformation of the protagonist and the transformation of the victims is resonant, deeply weird and unforgettable. The writing is great and the story is nicely revealed in that kind of slow motion you feel when things are quickly going bad.

"Song of Kali" - I don't remember when I first read this, but it has stayed with me. Again, nicely evocative writing. But here, the story is revealed in a mix of almost hallucinatory vividness and dark hints that sometimes resolve and sometimes not.
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:16 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like Sequence, as soon as I read "What are the most disturbing novels?" I went House of Leaves House of Leaves House of Leaves. Many of its disparate parts are variously annoying, boring, convoluted, trying too hard, and too pomo to bear, but that core story burrows into some dark part of you and stays there so that every time you hear the word labyrinth, you feel a little uneasy.

You know, I tried and tried to get into House of Leaves, and I just couldn't. I just remember being constantly annoyed by the format of it. As far as I know, everyone else on the planet absolutely loved it, but I remember finding the style too distracting.
posted by teponaztli at 8:19 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


The local Carnegie library recently asked me for recommendations of books to order. I suggested the likes of Thomas Liggotti, Laird Barron, Jeff VanderMeer, Joe Lansdale. They did go for VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, and The Thicket by Lansdale. Much of Barron's stuff is pretty nightmarish in a way, as is Ligotti's. Lansdale is great, period. As for VanderMeer, yeah interesting ideas, though I'm not sure how long that trilogy will stick with me as a reader. Iv'e really liked it so far. Iv'e also managed to get my hands on some of Michael Marshall Smith's books recently. Disturbing? Depends on where you're coming from. I reckon.

I wish I was still capable of being truly disturbed. Those days, Though? Seemingly long gone. That, in and of itself is kind of disturbing, really.
posted by metagnathous at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well besides echoing the hive mind regarding House of Leaves, Blood Meridian, and The Wasp Factory... to which American Psycho seems tame.... why has nobody mentioned King? Misery, Pet Semetary... King's definitely had his moments.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 8:33 PM on April 10, 2015


Yes, King-cum-Bachman's The Long Walk is on my personal short list.

Not to mention The Dark Tower cycle, but I'm biased...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:42 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem with the Thomas Covenant rape is that it was "justified."

YES EXACTLY THIS. He did way better with the Gap series in which everyone's horribleness is sort of explained via flashbacks/background info but afaik there's never that "well it was okay because xyz" fucking CTC bullshit. And not just the justification but the subsequent deification. ugh ugh grossness.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:43 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, what the heck am I thinking.

The Carpet Makers by Eschbach. I don't recall how I stumbled upon it in an Alabama public library but the amount of fucked up in one book is hard to imagine. King's best nor House of Leaves can touch the fucked up in that book for me.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Wasp Factory is great, but it caused my brother in law to question what kind of weirdo was married to his sister when I leant him that book with a "This is great, you should read this!" endorsement. He gave it back and just said it wasn't his thing.

The only other book that really rivalled that for me for blood-leaving-the-face-wtf was The Use of Weapons, also - of course - by Banks.

Man I miss him.

King I found had his best moments when you weren't sure whether there was evil magic, or the characters were just going nuts. As great as the movie version of The Shining is, I felt that the book was a little scarier, because it could totally be read as Jack just losing it.

Geek Love was another that I haven't seen mentioned yet.
posted by sauril at 8:45 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


What was the Stephen King story, I believe it was in Night Shift, that had me freaking out at my closet like an idiot? I know I am not alone in this experience.

The thing with the eels in The Tin Drum still makes me feel unwell.

Terry Bisson's short story Necronauts isn't horror, per se, and while I was reading it I wasn't nearly as disturbed as I was afterward while just thinking about it.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:47 PM on April 10, 2015


Jerzy Kosiński, "Cockpit". I felt that the author was truly a sociopath in order to have been capable of writing this.

Apparently he was:

Kosinski came to the U.S. in 1957, from his native Poland. Here, as he had there, he gradually became known for a spectrum of sociopathic behavior ranging from mere megalomania to brutal sexual coercion, fraud and plagiarism. Yet he was so convincing that his powerful supporters (including Yale University and the New York Times) believed his side of these accounts for 25 years before evidence was finally published in the Village Voice showing the depth of his cons and dishonesty.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 8:47 PM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


On The Gap Series, the whole baby thing just ruined it for me. I mean everyone is so horrible, but I just couldn't get past that. I totally bought the "justified rape" thing as a kid when I read TCT, but that was as a sheltered, all-boys-school kinda guy. I reread it in my 20's and had a completely different take.
posted by sauril at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2015


I have read Hogg, and one of the worst things about it is that you get used to... uh, it. The neverending filth and horror and awfulness.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:48 PM on April 10, 2015


Re Stephen King, Dreamcatcher was for me the hardest of his to finish - and I'd read pretty much everything of his pre-2000. It wasn't so much horrifying as a slog of Bad Shit Happening (literally) to get to the end (so to speak).
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:51 PM on April 10, 2015


I believe it was in Night Shift, that had me freaking out at my closet like an idiot?

Need more data, nothing coming to mind. I'm not sure it was Night Shift unless you were worried about your action figures (which were stored in said closet) killing you because you were an assassin in disguise or something.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2015


Oryx & Crake is the one in the link that resonated with me; all of Atwood's sci-fi is chock full of sexual violence and just wrecks me, emotionally, if I'm not steeled for that. She is one of the better writers, there, and manages to get under my skin through fictional normalizations of rape more than overtly squicky things.

Naked Lunch and Wasp Factory are two I half understand, but also half don't, because while they're both certainly unpleasant, they're also both hilarious. Banks does manage to attach emotional weight to the cruelty (what happens to Eric, and to Frank, are both genuinely sad and upsetting), but you're reading Burroughs wrongly if you're not just letting the imagery cascade over you like a cartoon tidal wave. You're especially reading Burroughs wrongly if you feel the racists, rapists and monsters that populate his pages are meant to be sympathetic.

List aside, I might say The Handmaid's Tale. It remains probably the most plausible dystopian novel I've read; and it induced a weeklong panic attack in me, which I wasn't really prepared for. I enjoy a lot of horror, weird fiction and avant garde literature, so Danielewski, Barron, Ligotti, Faber: good stuff. But it's rare for something to really reach inside and rearrange me in unsettling ways. Often the issue is that outstanding fantastic works balance their nihilism with rich imagination, which dulls the soul-crush factor. VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy does have a lot of imagery and emotions that, for reasons I'll never be able to fully articulate, inspire both terror and ecstasy in me. Those linger.

Cormac McCarthy's Child of God is also incredibly disturbing, but like many "disturbing" novels, sort of hollow and not worth reading, ultimately; I have no idea what McCarthy intended it to say.
posted by byanyothername at 8:57 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Last post for a bit, I promise, but Banks' description of Hell - one created by thinking beings - in Surface Detail has made that the only book of his I haven't read at least twice.

As for the article, I haven't read most of them, but when I read American Psycho and Naked Lunch I don't remember being that affected. But I suppose that's the difference between being a teenager and the father of two girls. I can't even read anything that involves bad things happening to blond girls between 3 and 8 anymore.
posted by sauril at 8:57 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


What was the Stephen King story, I believe it was in Night Shift, that had me freaking out at my closet like an idiot?

That would be "Boogeyman," and JESUS GAH. I saw a stage adaptation of that as a kid of maybe 9 or 10 (as part of an evening of King short stories on stage at a local theater) and "Boogeyman" freaked my shit RIGHT out. Just one guy on a couch edging closer and closer to a screaming, sobbing breakdown in the company of a patronizing, oily disembodied voice...until that final moment where a door slowly opens and the voice starts mockingly croaking "CRAAAWseeet"? And then they suddenly cut all the lights? Nope. NO THANK YOU SIR I DO NOT CARE FOR THIS ONE BIT.
posted by Merzbau at 8:57 PM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yes! "Boogeyman" freaked me the fuck out in, I think, jr high or freshman year of HS.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:05 PM on April 10, 2015


" I saw a stage adaptation of that"

Good God, I can't even imagine. The story haunted me for years (almost as much as 'Gramma') and seeing it in real life would be just too much.
posted by komara at 9:06 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ah, true. I thought it might have been Here there be Tygers by King but Boogeyman fits perfectly.

I suppose if we're venturing into short story realms then I might as well say my vote goes for I Have No Mouth yet I Must Scream of the sci-fi/horror flavor.

Other good King stories that scratch that particular itch are The End of the Whole Mess, it's right up there with Flowers for Algernon for me, and (for whatever reason) The Beggar and the Diamond because it's just... intense.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:08 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh shit, I don't know "Gramma"! Just looking up "Boogeyman" to make sure I had the spelling right (and making the mistake of looking at the wiki plot synopsis) gave me actual chills; I don't know if I should seek out something worse.

I mean, of course I'm GOING to, but...should I?
posted by Merzbau at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I read this as a teenager at the behest of a young male friend of mine, who was all shiny eyes and teeth asking me if I liked it. Um, no. I do not.

I find Patricia Highsmith routinely upsetting, as well as Roald Dahl. I read Less Than Zero over and over when I was 15. Can't remember a thing about it.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read Less Than Zero over and over when I was 15. Can't remember a thing about it.

Between 80 and 90 percent of that novel is variations on the words "I did a line of coke and then."
posted by griphus at 9:11 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


I tend to avoid books that show up on lists like these, but I have read Blood Meridian and The Road. Meridian was honestly kind of a slog, but a few parts have really burrowed deep. The Road gets docked points for the surprisingly corny ending.

Honestly, the first thing that sprung to mind was The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. It's been so long since I read it that I couldn't even tell you if it's good or not, but I read it at an impressionable age and it fucked my shit up good.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:13 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


griphus: Yes! I was kind of thinking, wait, wasn't there a lot of coke? And shiny hair?

So I went and read about it on wikipedia, and now I'm kind of wondering why I read it. Good grief.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 9:15 PM on April 10, 2015


Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow messed me up for a while.
posted by uberfunk at 9:17 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


I found KJ Bishop's The Etched City wonderful and amazing and really really disturbing (although not so much on a visceral horror level, more like an... episode of Hannibal?) Anyway it's fantastic.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:21 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
posted by Windigo at 9:21 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I read a ton of Stephen King in junior high/school. His novels never really freaked me out...but his short stories...oh my god. Pretty much everything in Night Shift gave me nightmares. Yet I just HAD to go and read the whole thing.
posted by Windigo at 9:30 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not disturbing in the same way . . . but when I was in high school I happened across a copy of Flowers in the Attic in the school library (why was it there in the first place?), read the first few pages, sat right down in the aisle and read the entire thing in about an hour and a half, and then walked out of the library feeling like my brain had somehow just eaten something spoiled and wanted to throw up.
posted by ostro at 9:37 PM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


More King: The bit early in "The Stand" about the pet rabbit has freaked me and a bunch of folks I know of out and sticks with people. The other short story that sticks in my head, though, is Survivor Type.

Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:38 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Now of course we only have Covenant as an unreliable narrator but it's still heavily implied that if you were afflicted by a disease that made sex impossible for decades and then suddenly found it possible, confronted with a nice girl trying to help you you might be overcome by the sudden possibility and just be unable to resist...

It's still gross, but isn't the "justification" that Covenant is having a dream, that none of it is real, and that the girl he rapes is just some aspect of his own psychology?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:40 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I happened across a copy of Flowers in the Attic in the school library (why was it there in the first place?),"

I DON'T KNOW BUT IT WAS IN ALL OF THEM. Secret theory: women were initiating girls into the horrors of heterosexuality with those novels.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:44 PM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


Roald Dahl's book of short stories, Kiss, Kiss. Holy hell, I can still remember most of them with a near-photographic realism.

Also, in the short story category, "The Veldt," by Ray Bradbury. Simple story, but urgh.
posted by readymade at 9:46 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


That character in Roald Dahl's The Witches that like, turned kids into hotdogs so that their parents would eat them? It's been a long time, but I remember that left a lasting impression. Took me a while to start eating hotdogs now that I think of it.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:18 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I had to put down Cryptonomicon and never, ever return due to the dog vivisection section that seemed to have no end in sight.

I do not remember this at all, and I've read the book probably 7, 8 times, most recently a few months ago. It's hurtng my brain. Can someone drop a couple lines of context? Or is it being confused with a different book?
posted by not that girl at 10:23 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Delany's Hogg and Nest of Spiders, Dennis Cooper's short fiction, Sade.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:24 PM on April 10, 2015


I don't remember that scene in Cryptonomicon at all, either. And I think I would. But that's a hugenormous book. I remember a lot of Captain Crunch.
posted by byanyothername at 10:30 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's a vivisection in Quicksilver, no?

What freaks me out about Cryptonomicon is how oblivious I was to the libertarian stuff the first time I read it; each reread I notice more and more.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:35 PM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


for whatever reason I tend to read a lot of horror or crime novels or novels that are supposed to be very disturbing and I can safely say I've never been bothered too much, but

But High Rise gave me nightmares.
posted by The Whelk at 10:50 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Geek Love was another that I haven't seen mentioned yet.
posted by sauril at 11:45 PM on April 10 [+] [!]


I was looking to see if anyone would post this one! Definitely the most disturbing book I've read in recent memory. I picked it up on a whim, and even though that was after understanding it was geeks of the carnival, not computer, variety, I thought it was going to be comic. Wow, it was not. So much body horror, characters twisted physically and mentally, and one scene in particular that is nuclear-level haunting. It's rare that I come out of something both thinking "that was very well written and compelling" and "I am honestly not sure if I'm happy that I've experienced that."
posted by ilana at 10:52 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor is a landmark novel and worth reading for many reasons, but the sexual violence in it is just relentless and life-destroying.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:03 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


A book that I read at just the right time was God is a Bullet by Boston Teran. A cop searching for a killer has to go undercover by infiltrating an underworld of misfits...or something along those lines. Really bleak gothic crime fiction. It made a real impression on me, but I wonder if it would stand up to a second reading. I read one of Teran's following novels and was not impressed.
posted by zardoz at 11:03 PM on April 10, 2015


I've never been disturbed by the content of a novel. After all, it's fiction. What disturbs me is poor writing, because that's real.
posted by rankfreudlite at 11:07 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's a stealth book that starts out all sweet and innocent and then eventually gets to the point of OMG WHY WOULD HUMANS EVER DO THIS TO SOMEONE THEY SUPPOSEDLY LOVE WHYYYYYYYYYY: Her Fearful Symmetry. Twins should never, ever, ever read it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


In terms of Stephen King, really no contest: Cujo. No supernatural elements to speak of (I think that there's one vaguely prophetic/clairvoyant dream), just a rabid dog that kills some people and fucks up the lives of more, and for no reason at all, shit just happens. The novella collection Full Dark, No Stars is similarly downbeat.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:20 PM on April 10, 2015


I'm going pop culture, (and these are specific to me):

Dean Koontz's Midnight - the scene where character is absorbed by the Machine, if I remember correctly.
When I read it, it was so visceral and triggered my memories of Superman III's similar scene.

Terry Goodkind - the bit in one of the earlier Sword of Truth books where Richard is kidnapped by the dominatrixes in thier leather outfits, with pain sticks, and they keep him as a sub against his will. I am sure those scenes are not well written, but I had a fever at the the time and my body was a pincushion of pain, so I did what few have ever done and felt emotion from a Goodkind book.

GRRM - A Dance Of Dragons: Oh, you can see Reek's story on the TV and LOL at the hammy acting and floppy sausage-eating scene on the TV serious, but the book version is unrelenting torture porn.

I mostly shrug off things in books, mostly, even some of the most icky stuff, but those are the three things that have stuck with me.
posted by Mezentian at 11:37 PM on April 10, 2015


It's still gross, but isn't the "justification" that Covenant is having a dream, that none of it is real, and that the girl he rapes is just some aspect of his own psychology?

That is the justification indeed. There's quite a good discussion about it at Tor. I shrugged off the rape scene, but the whining.... It was like old Tommy boy was the victim.

Of course, that was the 1980s, and things were different then.

Sometimes I wonder what my seventh grade teacher was thinking, recommending those books. But, as others have mentioned: Flowers In The Attic was in every school library.
posted by Mezentian at 11:41 PM on April 10, 2015


I've been having trouble falling asleep for most of my life, so I would read untill shutdown. My earliest memory of a haunting image was after first having seen an illustrated history of WWII when I was 8 years old. Worst part being some photo of a cart stacked with camp victims.

Second came the clown from Stephen Kings' "It". I loved reading his books when I was a kid but Stephen King managed to instill a severe dislike of clowns in me that has never left me.

After that, the only book added to the list was "Justine", by Marquis de Sade. In particular the closing scene with Justine fleeing and being struck by lightning and what happens after that.
posted by stthspl at 11:42 PM on April 10, 2015


I would like to propose this: if you find King, Palahniuk, Ellis, etc., passe and boring and full of suck, that you also recommend something YOU enjoyed In the same breath. Take us to the next level, please. Thanks to all l who have done this so far.

I read Dean Koontz's Midnight when I was in third grade and that was pretty awful. Werewolves. Computer tentacles sucking your brains out. Pre- and post-murder rape. Amorphous blobs. Conspiracies. More werewolves.

King's 1408 was disturbing to me because INSANITY and DEMONS.

IT was scary in a way I couldn't process properly when I was 12. Flying leeches, sociopaths (Patrick and Henry) clowns, attempted dad-rape, giant spiders, catatonia, sure. All there.

The haunted house in King's The Waste Land with the mutant spiders and the Guardian at the threshold...I wanted to go there. Semi-voluntary demon rape, addiction, crazy train, robot animals... It's action packed.
posted by ostranenie at 11:48 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Painted Bird

Also, less so, Atwood's Cat's Eye, and numerous King stories, especially The Long Walk and Roadwork.
posted by bendy at 12:23 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bolano's 2666, with its almost unbearable long central section "The Part About The Crimes", which is based on reality.
posted by thelonius at 1:13 AM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


While Perdido Street Station broke my heart, nothing has ever terrified me in the same way as The Girl Who Stepped On Bread.
posted by solarion at 1:18 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't get people who think House of Leaves was ultimately disturbing—it was freaky in parts (the bit with Johnnie and the dog? Oh my god), but overall it was a really touching story about love and family, yeah?
posted by Quilford at 1:27 AM on April 11, 2015


A Boy And His Dog: "overall it was a really touching story about love and family" too.

I haven't read House of Leaves, but the description matches Ellison's novella, which was also pretty bleak. But as a description It does leave something out.
posted by Mezentian at 1:44 AM on April 11, 2015


I am feeling a little concerned because I have read almost all the books mentioned in the article and the thread and none of them have disturbed me.
posted by kyrademon at 2:35 AM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Patrick McCabe is an Irish author who pretty much specialises in incredibly disturbing books. I enjoy all of them, when I can bring myself to read them, but his standout novel is 'The Butcher Boy', a book told from the point of view of boy in a small Irish town who is going insane. It's one of my favourite books but it is also the most upsetting thing I've ever read.
posted by h00py at 2:36 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The one that got me was Lionel Shriver's "We Need To Talk About Kevin". It is just so horrifyingly possible.
posted by peppermind at 2:57 AM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure about "disturbed" as I don't really carry much trauma from books read (with the exception of Where the Red Fern Grows--the one rule of good writing is DO NOT KILL THE DOGGIES), but King's The Mist was pretty bleak. I mean, there is a bit of hope at the end, but I don't see it being other than an imagined thing.
posted by maxwelton at 3:16 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


King's The Mist was pretty bleak. I mean, there is a bit of hope at the end, but I don't see it being other than an imagined thing.

The ending to the movie, though? Amazing.
One of my 'favourite' changes.
Plus, teaming with with Dead Can Dance? Astounding.
posted by Mezentian at 3:29 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've stalled in the middle of reading Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor, and I can't link to anything about it because I'm trying not to get spoiled. It's not the book's fault I've stalled - life intervened - but it's so intense I'll have to start again from the beginning to get properly back into it. Anyway the blurbs promise proper creepy discombobulation.

I book I find very creepy and weird, because you are in the protagonist's head and he's crazy, is Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824, James Hogg.) The casual, ghoulish ending taps into all my horrors.

And for a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, not just about the unfairness of the stories but the sentimentality and secret relish with which they are written, anything Hans Christian Anderson. Like, he totally got off on humiliation and pain, but made some kind of Christian moral out of it. It's the combination, and the underhandedness, and the sentimentality.
posted by glasseyes at 4:09 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Salt by Adam Roberts is one that springs to mind: it has not one but two unsympathetic protagonists and tells the story of a descent into war between two factions on a colony world.

K.J. Parker is always good at this, but The Company and The Hammer are two of the most disturbing. She's great at characters who are vaguely well-intentioned but utterly and catastrophically destructive.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:27 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Brian Evenson is really good at writing evil. He's like a strange amalgam of Samuel Beckett and Stephen King.
posted by idiopath at 5:16 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am feeling a little concerned because I have read almost all the books mentioned in the article and the thread and none of them have disturbed me.

If you can't see the abyss, you are the abyss.
posted by solarion at 5:19 AM on April 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


The rape/torture scene(s) near the end of Peter Watts' βehemoth was deeply unsettling for me; perhaps worse than American Psycho because Watts' narrator is quite reliable.
posted by infravires at 5:30 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Desperation by King has some terrible shit. Especially if you already find cops scary.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:34 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'll second Matthew Stokoe. High Life is far and away as the most disturbing book I've ever read.

Once when I was asked who are the 4 people living or dead that I'd like to have dinner with, I answered, "Doesn't matter as long as none of them are Matthew Stokoe."
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:46 AM on April 11, 2015


I'd say Ian McEwan's short story "Homemade" in First Love, Last Rites and Connie Willis's Domesday Book.
posted by paduasoy at 5:47 AM on April 11, 2015


And to the person that said AM Homes, not all of her books are like The End of Alice. This Book Will Save Your Life is one of my favorite novels and isn't at all "disturbing" in the bad sense.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:50 AM on April 11, 2015


V by Pynchon. I don't even like to think about it.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:51 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]



I suppose if we're venturing into short story realms then I might as well say my vote goes for I Have No Mouth yet I Must Scream of the sci-fi/horror flavor.

posted by RolandOfEld

Snap! And I was just going to excuse it with "well, it's Ellison, of course". Flowers for Algernon was just sad.
I got a few recommendations but Wasp Factory is on my tablet as a result of a rec several years ago, and I only managed half of Cryptonomicon.
posted by arzakh at 5:52 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:54 AM on April 11, 2015


[voice of a genius] scariest work of fiction? a holy book, natch
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:06 AM on April 11, 2015


K.J. Parker is always good at this, but The Company and The Hammer are two of the most disturbing. She's great at characters who are vaguely well-intentioned but utterly and catastrophically destructive.

Oh, gods, now you've reminded me of the end of The Belly of the Bow and how it's only the middle book in the trilogy, so la la la, here comes The Proof House and we have the same protagonist la di da.
posted by Etrigan at 6:08 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course, that was the 1980s, and things were different then.

Yeah for one thing the SF aisle would feature an entire shelf of John Norman's Gor novels.
posted by localroger at 6:13 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The fact that 2666 has only been mentioned once in this thread tells me that few here have read 2666. Such brilliant writing about something so horrific, made even more horrific by the fact that it's based on real-life occurances. It's my favorite book that I would never, could never read again.
posted by evil otto at 6:17 AM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Enigma of Amigara Fault
The Enigma of Amigara Fault
The Enigma of Amigara Fault
posted by oulipian at 6:34 AM on April 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Iain Banks' Use of Weapons had me sitting quite uncomfortably for quite a while.
posted by Ber at 6:44 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Surprised they didn't include The Collector. I read that one concurrently with Exquisite Corpse and found Fowles to be far more disturbing.

Oh, and if you want to read a pretty great takedown of Sade, I highly recommend Angela Carter's short book, The Sadean Woman. While there are things she praises about Sade's works, she also exposes how ridiculously un-erotic many of his scenarios are.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re the comment up above about the dog vivisection in Cryptonomicon--I confirm that scene is actually in the first volume of Quicksilver as I just recently finished rereading it.

A few short stories have really stayed jammed in my head:
- I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison
- A Rose For Emily, by Faulkner
- Monkey Shines, by King

Gaiman's had a couple of goodies. "Babycakes" for starters.

A book I read in my early twenties that just turned me off soooo much in terms of how it changed from intriguing occult mystery to sloppy overt sexual nonsense, is "The Witching Hour" by Anne Rice. Never read any other.

Agreed that to read "The Shining" is far more effective than the movie because of the whole unreliable narrator aspect -- Torrance is just slowly unspooling while his family is trapped with him in this weird hotel.
posted by hearthpig at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2015


When I was a teen, the more disturbing a book was, the better. But I find myself not quite so into that anymore. I read everything horror, then, and the one thing that really truly disturbed me out of all of Stephen King's books was the scene in Gerald's Game where she gives a solid effort to get out of the handcuffs. I remember it being the first time I wished I could stop reading but I HAD TO KNOW. The short story (also King) The Jaunt has stuck with me for years, too. I picked up a Chuck Paluhniuk book recently (the first I'd read, Haunted) and ended up putting it down halfway through just because it felt like pointless gore porn. The Prince of Thorns series, by Mark Lawrence, has a dog torture scene I almost couldn't get through. That was more annoying, because he writes wonderfully, and I finished the books anyway (skimming that part reluctantly), but I couldn't recommend them to certain people because of that one scene.

That said, some shred of my teenage self is still there, and it makes me want to read all of these now. I've read Oryx and Crake and found it completely meh. I was disappointed by it. I will not read Beside the Sea. I might have, when I was young and brave and didn't have children of my own, but...no. The Andrea Yates thing broke me for weeks, so reading something like that in fiction form just seems a stupid thing to do.
posted by routergirl at 7:19 AM on April 11, 2015


Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn is right there

Tampa by Alissa Nutting. Even the cover of the trade paperback is disturbing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:21 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really think Nabokov's Lolita deserves a place too. That book is such a mindfuck.
posted by BibiRose at 7:24 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Iron Council. Not from a horror standpoint, all the violence had me skimming bits, but the end...it's been years and I still get angry and weepy if I think about it.
posted by dejah420 at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh yea. Pound for pound The Jaunt holds it's own quite well.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Sorrow of War
posted by PHINC at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2015


Childhood's End fucked me up for a long time; I read it at an impressionable time, and both my lit teacher and all the other kids in my reading group interpreted it as a triumphal happy ending where we all get to evolve into superbeings; I thought it was a horrifying, dystopic, sad future and everyone was like, "What's wrong with you?" It wasn't until YEARS later that someone finally said to me, "No, dude, Clarke totally meant for it to be upsetting," that I felt better about it and stopped having nightmares about it.

Possibly that book accounts for my visceral dislike of Ray Kurzweil types.

Actually now I'm getting freaked out about the children ascending to the Overmind again and I have to stop thinking about it like NOW.

Mezentian: "Terry Goodkind - the bit in one of the earlier Sword of Truth books where Richard is kidnapped by the dominatrixes in thier leather outfits, with pain sticks, and they keep him as a sub against his will. "

This is one of those books where you get partway into it and go, "Ugh, I think I now know too much about the author's sexual preferences and I feel icky."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:58 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh you're right, it was Quicksilver. The plan was to read the whole Baroque Cycle and then Cryptonomicon, but the plan was.... gutted.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:06 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's strange to me that people don't grasp that Ellis' style is a condemnation of the horrors he's writing about, as well as the social circles and time period they occur in.

For me: the Patrick Melrose novels. Jesus god, never again.
posted by gsh at 8:17 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is one of those books where you get partway into it and go, "Ugh, I think I now know too much about the author's sexual preferences and I feel icky."

I gave up on Goodkind, it was just Star Wars meets Kink.com with a veneer of Tolkien/Brooks/whoever fantasy on top. After reading this thread I'm going to attempt "Hogg" because, well, I'm the kind of person who watches "A Serbian Film" just to see if I can I finish it (I did, it was a bit...bleak). I read "The End of Alice" for the same reason. Ugh, sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself.
posted by MikeMc at 8:19 AM on April 11, 2015


The rape/torture scene(s) near the end of Peter Watts' βehemoth was deeply unsettling for me

Vaguely spoilery, but the frustrating thing about this is that the most important plot point in the series gets casually dropped right in the middle of it. So, if you don't know that and don't have someone to tell you later, you could skip it and get a totally different, lesser idea of the series.

Bolano's 2666, with its almost unbearable long central section "The Part About The Crimes"

I wish the whole novel had been this, honestly. I live near ciudad Juárez, and the femicides are extremely distressing, but a novel overtly about them could be hugely important. Sinking it in such a titanic, meandering book is something I have mixed feelings about.
posted by byanyothername at 8:39 AM on April 11, 2015


The most terrifying book I ever read was The Amityville Horror. It wouldn't bother me now, but I read it in junior high and was really emotionally vulnerable and it just freaked me the fuck out for months.

I also dropped Perdido Street Station and haven't touched China Mieville's stuff since, partly because the mood seemed so bleak and hopeless, but partly because gruesome and protracted dog vivisection scene seemed so believably just around the corner.

Goddamn Perdido Street Station - don't forget the bug head raping. I would say many of the books listed here didn't disturb me so much as make me angry, because that's my reaction to books by men where women get raped just to amp up the dystopia or whatevs. There are a bunch of books I got really angry at because I felt the author betrayed me, or one of the characters. The bullshit storyline for Nadine Cross in The Stand for instance.

I found Kafka on the Shore the most disturbing of Murakami's books because of all the cat killing.

Geek Love was a book being touted by a lot of my friends when it came out, but I read the first few pages with the family doing terrible things to their children and decided, "I don't need this in my life."
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:42 AM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Monkey Shines, by King

The Monkey, you mean? Monkey Shines seems to be something else.

(fwiw, the only King story that I found disturbing when I read it years ago is The Raft. It also just struck me that the monkey story ends with something being thrown in a lake, and the raft is all about something that lives in a lake. Hmm...)

One of the more impressively disturbing things I've read is Swedish novel Äldreomsorgen i Övre Kågedalen, by pseudonym "Nikanor the Teratologist", which was finally translated into English as Assisted Living a few years ago, some 20 years after it was first published in Sweden. Vice reviews it here: Nikanor Teratologen’s Rolodex of Atrocities (they confuse their Larssons, though, Stig and Stieg are two different writers, the former a lot more literary than the latter).

But more interesting than the book itself was the reception -- it was published by one of Sweden's oldest and largest publishers, and had enough literary qualities that everyone was convinced that it just had to be a deranged insider joke by some established author, so the culture pages saw plenty of discussion about how such an utterly anti-humanistic piece of writing could be such a masterpiece -- until a tabloid tracked down the real author a few days later, a complete unknown with a to media very suspicious interest in things like militant veganism, Nietzsche, and Céline. The media scandal that followed turned the book into a cult hit and pretty much guaranteed its status as a modern classic (last link in Swedish).

(to be honest, I found it a bit tedious myself, but I have to admit that it's as funny in parts as it is disturbing. I know the region where the story takes place well, though, which might help a bit since it makes the story even more absurdly unrealistic than it is in itself...)
posted by effbot at 9:08 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


routergirl: "When I was a teen, the more disturbing a book was, the better. But I find myself not quite so into that anymore. "

Ditto. I used to love King and other "disturbing" fiction didn't really bother me. But now I just find that kind of thing almost unreadable. Especially anything involving children.

The short story (also King) The Jaunt has stuck with me for years, too.

"Longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!"
posted by Chrysostom at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


> I have read almost all the books mentioned in the article and the thread and none of them have disturbed me

So then what has? And why? I'm earnestly asking. I need this.
posted by ostranenie at 10:08 AM on April 11, 2015


late to this. Glad (is that the right word?) to see someone mentioned Jerzy Kozinski's Painted Bird. Not remotely surprised to see a bunch of Brett Eston Ellis hate, which is as always missing the point. As I commented once a while back ...

His horror comes directly from looking in the mirror, with little in the way of filters. Lunar Park, restrained for Mr. Ellis, was a particularly disturbing read for me, because the soul it depicted was just so shattered, divided, haunted.

Hate Ellis because his humanity, his obsessions, creep you the fuck out, but don't go saying he's a shitty writer.

And speaking of obsessions, where's CRASH, JG Ballard in general? Y'all are not disturbing yourselves nearly enough.
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ellis novels used to sit around in vast piles next to cookbooks for the most recently debunked health fad diet

I suspect American Psycho, were it to be written today, would have lavishly detailed descriptions of the narrator's paleo and gluten-free diet regimen rather than his obsessive devotion to Huey Lewis and the News, so that sort of fits.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


> I live near ciudad Juárez, and the femicides are extremely distressing, but a novel overtly about them could be hugely important. Sinking it in such a titanic, meandering book is something I have mixed feelings about.

That's an interesting point. For me, The Part About the Crimes shadows the rest of the book. It's section 4 out of 5, but it's nearly as many pages as sections 1, 2 and 3 put together. And it is just unrelenting -- I think I needed too weeks, at least, to get through it. It's distressing enough that I might have given up had I not known that it was only barely fictional. And once you do come out the other side you don't actually leave it behind: instead, you start to recognize that same murderous force repeatedly throughout the rest of the stories, both ahead of and behind section 4. It almost becomes variations on a theme. Archimboldi at the end is, what, a sort of witness? A man who fails to or cannot be a witness? A narrative anchor that, even at the very start of the book, has already failed to moor?

2666 doesn't come to mind when I think of disturbing books, because I think of "disturbing" books as those whose point is to be disturbing, like American Psycho. By contrast, 2666 seems to be trying to discover something fundamental; it's just that the fundamental discovery happens to be horrific.

But yeah, it's disturbing, and out of the whole titanic thing there are a few scenes and passages which have never really left my mind, even as the rest of it recedes.

I should reread it.
posted by postcommunism at 10:25 AM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah yes, the Raft freaked me out too! For the same reason as Gravity (movie, and that was on a much higher scale obviously). Just...nowhere to go. Being trapped. I watched Gravity and the entire time I was so uncomfortable I knew I'd never want to see it again. I mean, good movie and all, but not at all the feels I want. Clearly I'm not cut out to be either a scuba diver or an astronaut. Or, you know, trapped on a raft in a lake with death in the water.
posted by routergirl at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French by Stephen King.

(Hint: it isn't l'esprit d'escalier.)
posted by ostranenie at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2015


I read Ballard's Crash and didn't find it disturbing so much as lyrically hallucinatory. Same with Naked Lunch.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:35 AM on April 11, 2015


The Raft was the worst (or was it the best?) because of the horrible realization that 1) The monster was distracted! You could have made a break for it.but you froze. YOU FOOL! and 2) Maybe the purpose of the colors is to distract me from that I'm about to get eaten? Well...there's no sense in delaying the inevitable.
posted by ostranenie at 10:36 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everything I have read so far by Elfriede Jelinek belongs here(especially Lust, and The Piano Teacher). The horror is how completely convincing she is about the endlessly bleak and unbridgeable divide between men and women, and between all humans besides. And she's (darkly, sardonically) funny, so you want to keep reading.
posted by velebita at 10:46 AM on April 11, 2015


I read Ballard's Crash and didn't find it disturbing so much as lyrically hallucinatory.

I feel the same way about Crash, although I did get somewhat disturbed by the clinical, joyless way that the constant sex is described, and by how vividly the characters' alienation is depicted. I remember thinking that it was a masterpiece of that kind of expression of late-capitalist ennui, and also that I could go a very long time without reading the words "pubis" or "chromium" again. (Ballard is a million times better than Ellis at expressing this sort of thing, but I do think they are embarking on similar projects.)

A lot of Ballard's short stories are pretty disturbing, though more in a similar vein of really putting you in the head of someone who is profoundly isolated and disconnected than for moments that explicitly squick you out. I do recall being pretty disturbed by reading "Manhole 69," about an experiment to remove the need for sleep, at a time when I was having a lot of trouble with my own sleep cycle.

I got pretty disturbed by one of the late, lamented Lucius Shepard's short stories, the title of which I can't remember but I think it's in The Jaguar Hunter, about a post-apocalyptic world in which a town's children are preyed upon by telepathic blue-eyed apes. There's a moment of revelation which is really pretty lurid and bad when I think about it objectively, but just gave me the heebie-jeebies something fierce.

As someone who enjoys disturbing books, at least some of them, I'm enjoying this thread.
posted by whir at 11:16 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ivo Andrić's The Bridge on the Drina—not the whole book, which is great, just the impalement scene, which I will skip next time I read the novel. Brr.

Also, Lewis Padgett's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," a terrific story that I enjoyed uncomplicatedly as a teenager but that terrified me when I read it as an adult with two young grandsons. I'm linking to that page rather than Wikipedia because it has a Spoiler warning before it gets to the spoilery parts, and if you haven't read the story you shouldn't have it spoiled.
posted by languagehat at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2015


Lovecraft f'ed me up as a teenager, mostly his stories about the creeping chaos lurking just beneath the veneer of normal life.

I can't believe nobody has mentioned When the Wind Blows. That book messed me up for months.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 11:27 AM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Encountering Dennis Cooper in my early 20's just after coming out of the gay closet to myself really did a number on me. Nearly 20 years later, I've finally also come to terms with being into BDSM but I think that encounter with his books made this a much longer journey than it needed to be.

For what it's worth, a friend of a friend knows him and swears he's one of the sweetest, most supportive and nurturing folks in the literary circles he runs around in. There seems to be a lot of goodwill around him, so I'm going to assume he's not at all what he writes but, damn, if I could unread something, his books would be at the top of the list.

As for McCarthy, I get why The Road is often touted as an incredibly bleak novel, but I found it bizarrely uplifting. There's so much compassion and empathy in the relationship between the father and son. Yes, the world is dying, for real, but it's heartening to know that there's still an ember of real humanity glowing among the ashes as the screen fades to black. I found Blood Meridian to be far more bleak -- that penultimate image of the Judge dancing and never sleeping will haunt me for the rest of my days -- yet I found the novel so electrifying that I had to start over from the beginning once I finished it for the first time. It's the only book I've ever done that with.
posted by treepour at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


American Psycho is number one for me, no doubt. I had to read it in little bits and pieces - I could not read it in long stretches. And I've never had the urge to reread it. (Unlike Ellis's first two books, which I love and have reread many times.)

I'll also add Push, by Sapphire. It was on the employee book exchange shelf at a previous job, so I picked it up and started reading it. I could not even get past the first chapter.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:28 AM on April 11, 2015


Maribou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh (the author of Trainspotting). Really, really horribly disturbing and upsetting.
posted by tzikeh at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maribou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh (the author of Trainspotting). Really, really horribly disturbing and upsetting.

Yes! I both enjoyed it and was deeply disturbed by it. I recommend it to people with a strong disclaimer.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:01 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I found David Peace's Red Riding Quartet pretty disturbing, as these things go.
posted by chavenet at 12:06 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you only saw the movie, it may not make sense, but A Simple Plan by Scott Smith was absolutely horrible for me to get through. I actually dreaded having to pick it up and finish it.
posted by buzzkillington at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


ROU_Xenophobe: It's still gross, but isn't the "justification" that Covenant is having a dream, that none of it is real, and that the girl he rapes is just some aspect of his own psychology?

I really don't see how "I was just raping myself" is any better, frankly. You're still talking about someone whose reaction to either a part of himself or another person who is kind and generous is to rape them. What does that say about how he views kindness and generosity, much less vulnerability?
posted by Deoridhe at 12:22 PM on April 11, 2015


I read and watch a fair amount of horror so I may be inured to a lot of the more traditionally disturbing material out there; the stuff that gets to me is often more about nuance and implication. Seconding Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow; it's not a terrifying book by any means but at times it's just unsettling in ways that get under your skin. I suspect it doesn't have the same effect on everyone, but it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. A very different book that nonetheless hits some of the same nerves for me at least: Blindsight by Peter Watts.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


What does that say about how he views kindness and generosity, much less vulnerability?

I haven't read those books since I was 10 (and don't plan to reread them), but isn't that the point of having such a flawed character? My memory is that the books are an active (if at times yucky) exploration of exactly those issues of kindness, generosity, trust, and morality, in the same way that the much better-written Lolita is an exploration of the awfulness of Humbert Humbert.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:27 PM on April 11, 2015


The opener to Foucault's Discipline and Punish kept me from sleeping for 3 days in college, severely enough I missed class (which I never, ever did; I was a goody goody apple polisher straight through my 20s).
posted by ifjuly at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Horribly disturbing and graphic.
posted by tinwhiskers at 12:36 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only thing that came to mind was the potholing sequence from The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which not only managed to induce claustrophobia in me where I hadn't been susceptible before (making things like Kill Bill II trickier than they otherwise would have been), but if it unexpectedly comes to mind, even if I'm in a very open space, I tend to have a panic attack.

Then you had to remind me about that bit in Gravity's Rainbow, so that too.

Nothing I ever read had the same effect on me that the Plumber Baby scene from Chris Morris' Jam did, though.
posted by Grangousier at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2015


Thomas gets thematic forgiveness throughout the book to such an extent that the woman he raped, Lena, saves his life by sacrificing her own. I just learned that. That is disgusting.

But he feels bad about it, so that makes it ok.

Dear gods - the irony of someone writing a book trying to examine whether what we create in dreams/fantasies really matters, which has the conclusion that it does, that also includes the narrative arc of 'girl raped at 16 after saving her rapist's life, leaves everything she knows to save the life of her rapist (again) from murderous relatives who don't respect her wants (yay doubling down on dismissing her as a person in one! narrative! arc!), comes to revere and adore her rapist as she grows older, and sacrifices her life for her rapist to save him (THREE TIMES; she saves him THREE TIMES) all so he can feel bad about himself but really become everyone's savior YAY HIM' is simply staggering.

I'm so glad I didn't read this book. Just checking Lena's arc makes me furious. That is disgusting.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nothing I ever read had the same effect on me that the Plumber Baby scene from Chris Morris' Jam did, though.

Jebus, that was something. And it did remind me of the time I caught The Gush on college radio, without knowing what the hell I was listening to. That was also something.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:56 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Dead School by Patrick McCabe absolutely freaked me out. It was devastatingly unrelenting in its intense portrayal of everything going to hell for all involved. I read it back in '96, and it's stayed with me ever since. "It was a sad state of affairs. A sad state of affairs now and no mistake." Yeah, no kidding.....
posted by but no cigar at 1:03 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The two books that disturbed me the most were young adult novels. I read them when I was a teenager but they would probably still haunt me if I had read them now:

Tangerine by Edward Bloor. I had intrusive thoughts about the scene when we find out what actually happened to Paul for years.

Feed by M. T. Anderson, for remaining the most plausible dystopia in anything I've read.
posted by capricorn at 1:16 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Childhood's End fucked me up for a long time; I read it at an impressionable time, and both my lit teacher and all the other kids in my reading group interpreted it as a triumphal happy ending where we all get to evolve into superbeings; I thought it was a horrifying, dystopic, sad future and everyone was like, "What's wrong with you?" It wasn't until YEARS later that someone finally said to me, "No, dude, Clarke totally meant for it to be upsetting," that I felt better about it and stopped having nightmares about it.

Possibly that book accounts for my visceral dislike of Ray Kurzweil types.

Actually now I'm getting freaked out about the children ascending to the Overmind again and I have to stop thinking about it like NOW.


This is terror at the highest possible trophic level; terror at the End of Being itself.

How do you feel about de Chardinian theologies in general? Because Clarke's Overmind and Kurzweil's Singularity are both pretty clear instantiations of de Chardin's Omega Point.

One has a sense almost of fear of a Calling evaded -- or perhaps merely postponed.

Lately it's been freaking me out the extent to which, if the flow of time were simply reversed, and we were heading toward the Big Bang rather than away from it, we would be forced to acknowledge de Chardin's theology as one of the great acts of scientific Prophecy of all time, since in a context of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, we would be witnesses as a single and perhaps very favored line among a great multiplicity realizing every possible thing that could have happened, gradually refined itself down and strengthened, dividing point by dividing point as the other split off realities rejoined it, proceeding toward final Oneness, and achieving it just as existence itself ceased.
posted by jamjam at 1:20 PM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow - yes, that freaked me out as well, in a subtle creeping up on you OMG kind of way. Another one that got me was Communion, by Whitley Strieber. I was a teenager when I read it, and it left me terrified, even without buying into the "true story" thing. All of VC Andrews can be disturbing. I was forbidden to read those and Stephen King as a kid, so I read a lot of both of them, borrowed from friends or whatever. Stephen King really hits me with the short stories, too - he's quite good at those. Oh, and in Pet Sematary, one of the characters kept remembering when her sister died of spinal meningitis, and that bit creeped me right the hell out. More so than the dead returning.
posted by routergirl at 1:47 PM on April 11, 2015


Nthing Angela Carter. The Passion of New Eve gave me nightmares.
posted by NixonNixonNixonNixon at 3:43 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm still not quite over Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel, and the worst part is that I still can't quite put my finger on why I found it so upsetting.

Still won't go near it again to find out, though.
posted by the_royal_we at 3:52 PM on April 11, 2015


Thought of two more.

Christina Steads The Man Who Loved Children and
Joe Hill/Stephen King's story In The Tall Grass (I don't read horror, this was a nasty surprise).
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 4:21 PM on April 11, 2015


I'd also mention that both of Marlon James' novels--The Book of the Night Women and A Brief History of Seven Killings--have haunted me long after I finished reading them. They were so, so good though.
posted by thivaia at 4:34 PM on April 11, 2015


Atonement really tore me up, and set me on a path which has me reading very little fiction these days once I understood what he was saying about the obfuscatory social role of literature. It makes me wonder why he ever wrote anything again.
posted by fivebells at 5:01 PM on April 11, 2015


Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. Horribly disturbing and graphic.

Oates's short story "The Girl With the Blackened Eye" has haunted me for years and I don't even LIKE Oates.

I really can't believe Painted Bird wasn't on the original list.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:57 PM on April 11, 2015


Ken MacLeod's Intrusion, for the horror of a believable 21st century casually brutal liberal democracy in the UK. It's basically Orwell, updated for modern political realities.

M John Harrison's Kefahuchi Tract novels. I came for the serial killer, I stayed to wither while contemplating the ultimate insignificance of human desire.

Jim Ballard's The Drought, hits too close during these days in California.
posted by meehawl at 6:13 PM on April 11, 2015


The title story in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned has an act of torture that was so disturbing to me it tainted the whole book.
posted by apricot at 8:18 PM on April 11, 2015


What was the Joyce Carol Oates short story where the victim/protagonist was named babygirl? Ugh.

Ted Chiang's Hell is the Absence of God was a really disturbing view of what a world ruled by an Old Testament God would be like.

Octavia Butler's Bloodchild also stayed with me for a long time, with it's view of humans as parasite host/pets for the alien rulers.

Seconding Kij Johnson's Spar.
posted by benzenedream at 8:43 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Magus.
posted by clavdivs at 8:57 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Richard Matheson is one who consistently freaks me out. I saw The Legend of Hell House as a little kid and it scared the daylights out of me. Of course, this was followed by the lovely and infamous Zuni doll in "Trilogy of Terror". I only read the actual stories later and one especially ensured that I could not sleep, Person to Person, a story about a disturbing prank phone caller.

Another one that I still remember even though it's been years, is Charlee Jacobs' Soma. Filled with Wendigos, American soldiers committing war crimes in SE Asia and lots of flaying.
posted by nikitabot at 9:02 PM on April 11, 2015


As for McCarthy, I get why The Road is often touted as an incredibly bleak novel, but I found it bizarrely uplifting.

Same. There's something about the way the emotion in their relationship is so naked. It's shorn of inflection, punctation, but it burns off the page. When I've been most in love, I've noticed that I'm less likely to use flowery, ornate language, and reducing things to the simple, bare, honest facts is the closest you can get to expressing the truth.

I love you. I need you. Yes. I will. I do.

It's heartbreaking, and it's true.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:12 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just reread The Road and I ended up feeling that it isn't one of his stronger books, certainly not at the level of Blood Meridian or Suttree. But repeatedly there are incredibly powerful scenes (like the people in the basement of the old house) and having the boy along forces an emotional response that wouldn't be there otherwise; that emotional sensitivity could easily make it a disturbing book for some people, much more so than the casual atrocities in most dystopian novels.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:58 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also found Apt Pupil really disturbing, which is odd because I don't usually mind the subject matter or Stephen King. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was more hauntingly tragic, for me. The movie of Where the Wind Blows made me leave the room so I could sob alone, so there's no way in the world I'm ever going to read the book.

I read Roald Dahl's Kiss Kiss collection of short stories far too young and am still uncomfortable about baby rabbits to this day.
posted by harriet vane at 9:59 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae really seriously bummed me out in my late teens. Like being cornered at an office party by the boss's super smart, super mean daughter and tortured for hours (until I threw the thing down and moved on.)
posted by biddeford at 11:22 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're a very curious and voracious reader and for some reason you get your hands on Sexual Personae when you're like 14 you can use the biography in the back as a really good art history and aesthetics reading list master class. ( seriously how else would a teenager in NJ know to look up Kenneth Clark books at the library?)
posted by The Whelk at 11:29 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a hard time answering this question because I got seriously freaked out by a lot of things when I was younger, including a lot of Stephen King. Oh, and a kid's version of Dracula. These days my memory is so bad it's the staying with me part that's harder (seriously, I read House of Leaves last year and I'm having trouble remembering what you guys are talking about with the dog bit) (oh, and though it was definitely a mind-f**k reading it, wasn't unduly bothered by it). Also, I'm not really sure what "disturbing" means - I get disturbed by a lot, but have learned not to let it stick with me or else I would never sleep. Is it scary? Morally repulsive? Viscerally disgusting? Not entirely sure.

That said, here's a few that have stuck with me over the years, which I don't think anyone else has mentioned (so if you're using this thread as a reading list, hooray!)

Fritz Leiber - Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness. Neither leaves me having trouble sleeping, but there are certain scenes (the gargoyle; Tansy after the ritual; finding his own apartment window through the binoculars; the Scholar's Mistress) that are extremely clear and vivid in my imagination and make me shudder. Creepy as.

Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House which, when I read it at uni, did give me trouble sleeping for days. Despite thinking it's an excellent book, I've not been able to read it again.

Val McDermid - The Mermaids Singing (link has spoilers) which has such graphic and brutal torture scenes in it that I had nightmares.

Minette Walters - The Devil's Feather which I swear gave me nightmares for days. Stalking and lots of dogs and I don't remember a lot of details, but it was around then I decided I had to give crime fiction a break. I'm surprised not more crime fiction has made it on here, it's often a very brutal genre.

HP Lovecraft - The Lurking Fear (and text), mostly because of atmosphere. My brother likes reading aloud and when I was a teen would read lots of Lovecraft to me. This particular one he read on a hot summer night. Everyone else was asleep and the house was dark, with only one reading light on. And as he read about summer thunderstorms and mysterious, brutal killings in upstate New York where I was born, we heard thunder rumbling in the distance... it was great. But disturbing.

And finally, Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, which wasn't scary but sucked me into the world she was writing about so that not only could I not put it down until I'd finished, but I felt like I was a bit lost and nauseated and disgusted by the time I finished it. I hated it, would never read it again, but I guess it did its job!
posted by Athanassiel at 12:12 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Stephen King's books was the scene in Gerald's Game where she gives a solid effort to get out of the handcuffs.

That book! I read it because I owned it, and MeFi's King Month, and, ugh, even though I read it on a bus and train, in daylight hours, and I have never been handcuffed in a deserted cabin during daylight hours, and left alone, he made me feel like I had.

Also, The Raft. I first came across in Creepshow (or Creepshow 2?).
That segment messed me up. As did King's Twilight Zone episode, but there is something more immediate about seeing things presented as, say, reading about them.

You know, like Survivor Type.
I first read about it in Danse Macabre, and when I read it I had no words.
I'd forgotten it before now, but that one.... it works because 20 years later I am still thinking about it.
Like when people hacksaw up bodies in TV shows.
Even the word bonesaw.... I just cannot....
posted by Mezentian at 12:59 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Paglia's hatred of Foucualt made me love him even more.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:23 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the Beach is utterly horrifying to me. It's the only book that has given me nightmares.
The terrible things people do at the end of that book, that are completely logical, and probably the right choice.
Sometimes it seems so... near.
posted by Adridne at 6:12 AM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


No list of "deeply disturbing fiction" is complete without Jim Thompson, specifically The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280.

Largely forgotten (except kinda by Stephen King) is Don Roberston's The Ideal Genuine Man.

I suppose I did just enough camping when younger that Algernon Blackwood's The Wendigo creeped me right the fuck out. Project Gutenberg link.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:58 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Let's see, "The Monkey", "The Jaunt", "Survivor Type", and "The Raft" are all in the same collection (together with one of my King favourites, "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut"). Best King book or best King book?
posted by effbot at 9:04 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The first things that always come to mind when I think of disturbing novels are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Blood Meridian, so not surprised to see them on the list. House of Leaves was the scariest thing I've ever read, but not in a disturbing way (which for me is excessive violence, animal abuse or bleak existentialism), so I really liked it.

The only two other books I can think of offhand that were disturbing in a bleak way were Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre and The Stranger by Camus. I did like The Stranger, despite the bleakness, but I HATED Nausea.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:56 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, it's from a long time ago and maybe mostly forgotten about, but I remember Bastard Out Of Carolina being a pretty awful thing to read at the time.
posted by triggerfinger at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Best King book or best King book?

Skeleton Crew
is a very solid collection, definitely. I think Night Shift may edge it, though.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2015


Triggerfinger: no, Dorothy Allison is a legend and Bastard Out of Carolina is a classic, definitely not forgotten about. I'm glad I read it, because it lead me to read the rest of her work, which includes a lot of raw and brilliant introspection on her dirt poor rural background, working class queerness, and southern identity.

I can definitely tell by what books people list whether they're into horror and science fiction or mostly literary fiction. People's taste is so diverse and that's awesome! I have weirdly specific taste that mostly ends up with me reading a lot of female writers, a lot of queer writers, a lot of women of color, people with intersecting identities; so I end up readinng a lot of books about families, coming of age stories, historical books, etc.

As a result of this, all the books I remember having an effect like this on me are fairly realistic stories with just nonstop nausea inducing abuse and violence and the palpable foreshadowing of further horror to come. I love Annie Proulx, because her work focuses on the women in the stories as well as the men; but in books like Accordian Crimes, her historical settings make it super brutal to read. It's not just that you're reading about endless death and domestic violence and rape and unsuccessful pregnancies and childbirths and the utter unfairness of the situation; you're also thinking "oh my god this is probably pretty accurate as to how things were during this era."

Same thing with The Women of Brewster Place, which I mentioned above. For me, this stuff sticks with me a whole lot more than the "woo-woo gross stuff is happening to me in a FUTURE MACHINE!" of I Have No Eyes, Yet I Must Scream (for example). Hell, I think the film version of A Boy and His Dog is a hilarious cult classic and black comedy.

It's just interesting to see how the sorts of books people are into influence what books they think of as disturbing.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


House of Leaves was the scariest thing I've ever read, but not in a disturbing way (which for me is excessive violence, animal abuse or bleak existentialism), so I really liked it.

See, I very much dislike things like animal abuse, but somehow my emotional responses, or at least the words I'd use for them, run opposite. I didn't think House of Leaves was all that scary when I read it, but it's permanently rendered me capable of getting seriously unsettled by, like, empty hallways, or brief overheard snippets of foreign languages. Which I'm pretty okay with, but still, this has persisted for years and I no longer even own a copy of it. Other things, it's like, damn it, I didn't need a reminder of how revolting the world can be, but the world can be pretty revolting and I usually manage to move on in time.
posted by Sequence at 5:10 PM on April 12, 2015


Short stories get under my skin like nothing else, hence my shivers of recognition when previous posters mentioned Survivor Type, Apt Pupil, The Raft and The Mist. (The last was particularly disturbing to me because it's set at a supermarket in my hometown. I'd go there with my mom and wonder, "What if we never leave here? What if these are the people I'm going to die with?")
The most disturbing thing I've read lately? Another short story, of course. Lorrie Moore's Wings. It's what the protagonist finds in the attic that put me over the edge.
(I grew up in a big, creaky old New England house. Lots of places for ... things ... to hide. Too many, if you were a kid who had an active imagination and a bedroom next to the attic.)
posted by virago at 6:37 PM on April 12, 2015


This thread convinced me to read a Stephen King novel for the first time in probably about two decades. I had a copy of 11/22/63 on my Kindle, so I swallowed it down over the weekend. It wasn't disturbing... it was moving. It basically a love story. I really enjoyed it. I didn't really expect King to have changed genres so dramatically.
posted by painquale at 4:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Deerskin by Robin McKinley. NO.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Banks' description of Hell - one created by thinking beings - in Surface Detail has made that the only book of his I haven't read at least twice.

This.

Many of the examples given here of disturbing books feature acts of individual brutality and torture, but what I've always found far more scary are examples of systemic, society wide oppression, especially the inevitability of it in books like Surface Detail or The Handmaid's Tale.

Not that more individualised depictions of abuse can't be chilling. Kate Elliot's King's Dragon looks at first glance like your run of the mill epic medievaloid fantasy, but confounds expectations by being realistic about what a medieval world would actually look like and act like. It contains one of the most chilling and harrowing depictions of domestic abuse I've ever read, where the horror isn't in the violence against the protagonist, but rather in how her personality is shaped by it even after she escapes her abuser, and how it is enabled by the society she lives in.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:04 PM on April 13, 2015


One by Conrad Williams is pretty rough and I like to trot it out in discussions like these. A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan and The Painted Bird by Jerzy Koskinski are a couple of others that have stuck with me. Maldoror and Moravagine are decent for French works. For general unsettlingness Paul Bowles is a good bet. Blood Meridian is basically a joke book written on a dare and American Psycho is a gut-buster but not as good as Glamorama.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:01 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


All Our Darling Daughters by Connie Willis managed to really get across that fever-dream sick feeling and also stuck in a dark corner of my head.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2015


Also, I wasn't so much disturbed as Meh'ed by Oryx and Crake. I know everyone loves it, but meh.

This was a book I was really looking forward to and started recently but I packed it in halfway through, it was really dull.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:08 PM on April 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Creeped me out for AGES:

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
The Collector by John Fowles
Intensity by Dean Koontz

Seriously though the only disturbing thing about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the amount of talent required to write such an incredible book. Every page a rabbit hole.
posted by operalass at 10:03 AM on April 16, 2015


My contribution is this first this post from 2001: Books That Will Induce A Mind Fuck @ Everything2.com. Sort'a like linking to it so I can waste even more time in the future. And second, I offer for you artists, Chuck Palahniuk's Diary. I nearly hated reading it.
posted by xtian at 6:09 PM on April 17, 2015


Another one is Brothers, William Goldman's sequel to Marathon Man. Perhaps even odder is, he also wrote The Princess Bride...
posted by thelonius at 1:43 PM on April 23, 2015


« Older CGA = 4 colors, amirite?   |   “You missed a good game.” Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments