Last month, we ran a highly contentious list of disturbing novels and short stories, from Flannery O’Connor’s 1955 classic, “A Good Man is Hard To Find,” to Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. This month, we’ve combed through the comments in order to find our favorite disturbing book suggestions from readers who had a bone to pick with our original choices. The following list contains an assortment of writers from our fair nation as well as a few key stories from abroad, and all of the stories included are guaranteed to disturb. An especially well-read commenter suggested the surreal poetic novel/poem Les Chants de Maldoror, which offers the following warning to readers: “The lethal fumes of this book shall dissolve his soul as water does sugar.” So get ready to toss and turn tonight, because these books are meant to unsettle.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
You can say what you want about Part One, but the latter half of the novel is where it gets really disturbing. Part Four is the arguably hardest to read, since it methodically describes the rape and torture of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa, a small town in northern Mexico. We know a lot of people who gave up in the middle and just couldn’t go on.Were you able to get through this book, dear readers? Did you have terrible nightmares about Klaus Haas for days afterward?
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
We included this at the tail end of our devastatingly sad books post, but due to popular demand, we’re including it in this list as well. While this book is heartbreaking, it’s depictions of the routine surgeries of the “donors” makes it an incredibly disturbing read as well. It’s hard not to feel trapped, with little faith in humanity as we witness the horrible advancements in cloning technology that are presented in this literary sci-fi novel.
I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates
JCO explores the underbelly of America is this collection of 19 stories, each depicting its own version of the darker side of human sexuality and gender relations.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
In Malcolm McLowry’s semi-autobiographical opus, we follow one day in the life of an alcoholic ex-consul from Great Britain who is living in a small town in Mexico. The day in question is the Day of the Dead, though, so things get a little eerie as we see how screwed up Geoffrey Firmin’s life can get. As Dr. Vigil says in the novel, “Poor your friend, he spend his money on earth in such continuous tragedies.”
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This was a disturbing book in that it was so bizarre, both in its construction (e.g., the footnotes, the spiraling, deconstructed text) and in its portrayal of a family living in a house with a seemingly endless maze of gray hallways that frequently shifts to reveal additional unseen spaces. The family unit slowly breaks down as a result of the father’s compulsion to explore the hidden areas of this strange house.
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Oh god. We will never get over that horrible incident involving “Little Father Time,” the son of Jude Fawley and his first wife. Hardy’s last novel was first published in 1895, and was publicly burned soon after by an angry bishop who saw it as blasphemous.
The Penal Colony by Franz Kafka
We left this out of the last list and really don’t have a good reason why, since this short story haunts us to this day. Don’t worry Mom. After reading this, we decided against getting a tattoo.
Lawnmower Man by Stephen King
Poor Harold Parkette. All he wants is for someone to mow his lawn, but instead he gets a diabolical landscaper who munches bits of his front yard in the nude while a lawnmower with a mind of its own gets to work. The moral of the story: never hire a cheap maintenance man and never trust the police to save you.
The End of Alice by A. M. Homes
An especially unlikeable narrator with an even more horrible name — what more do you need to disturb you? Chappy is an unrepentant pedophile and murderer who is serving time in Sing-Sing, and we are privy to his reminiscences of his time with his twelve-year-old victim, Alice. This late ’90s novel is not for the faint of heart.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
All we have to say is: “The horror! The horror!”