I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.
This week I'm reviewing Audrey's Door, by Sarah Langan.
There's a large focus on mental illness in this book, which I think is where the horror primarily resides. Though there are paranormal elements, the most fearsome thing is what is happening in Audrey's mind as she feels a compulsion to build a free-standing door in her new apartment. Audrey has OCD, as well as other issues, and her mother is bipolar. Her boyfriend holds his anger inside and lets the people in his life walk all over him, including his mother and girlfriend.
There was an element of Rosemary's Baby in this story, as it's set in an old building full of lifelong residents (almost all elderly except for her sweet neighbor) who want something from her. No, they don't just want it, they need it, and they will do anything for it. Fear of the elderly is a big factor in Audrey's Door, as well. They're creepy and weird, and they're not afraid of anything. Or that appears to be why we're supposed to be afraid of the elderly.
For me, this book couldn't decide whether it was about the horror of slipping from mental illness to straight up insanity, supernatural horror, or the danger innate in other people who want to use you. I don't think the paranormal aspects delivered, but I do think there was thorough character development that made me care about what happened to the characters we're supposed to worry about. The background is interesting, as is the plot overall. However, near the end, we start bouncing around to unexpected character POVs, and I think it would have been stronger sticking with the main character's POV. The development that came from the other POVs was unnecessary, and tore me away from what was happening to Audrey. We even jump to Audrey's boss's POV for a chapter. Why?
Langan is a good writer, but there were elements that dragged the story down instead of improving it. Still, I could tell what stories had inspired her, and there were some wonderful creepy moments. Her characterization was the strongest aspect, which is important in horror. I wanted to see how it would end. Her voice is strong, the pacing solid. I wish she'd pared down the POV stuff, but some of the extra POVs provided touching moments--they just weren't necessary for this story.
My new rankings:
1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
5. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2010 (Paula Guran)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
10. Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror (Ellen Datlow)
11. 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill)
12. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
13. Dark Forces (Kirby McCauly)
14. Swan Song (Robert McCammon)
15. Audrey's Door (Sarah Langan)
16. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
17. Wet Work (Philip Nutman)
18. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
19. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
20. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
21. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
22. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
23. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
24. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
25. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
26. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
27. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
28. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
29. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
30. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
31. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
32. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
33. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
34. World War Z (Max Brooks)
35. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
36. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
37. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
38. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
39. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
40. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell)
41. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
42. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)
I don't know which one I'm reading next, but I stocked up, and have a whole pile of books on the list to read! Yay!
Since I didn't do links on Monday's post, I'll do them today. Bear in mind that I am not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.
Fireside Fiction will be open for submissions for one week only. Short stories of any genre. Up to 4000 words. Pays 12.5 cents/word. Open to submissions November 5-11.
Lamplight is seeking dark fiction short stories and flash fiction. Up to 7000 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline November 15.
Hinnom Magazine is seeking speculative fiction short stories. Up to 5000 words. Pays $10-15. Deadline November 15.
World Weaver Press is seeking solarpunk short stories for their anthology Glass & Gardens: Solarpunk Summers. Up to 8000 words. Pays $.01/word. Deadline November 15.
Ducts is seeking essays, fiction, poetry, and memoir. Up to 4000 words. Pays $20. Deadline November 15.
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Do you know of other horror stories involving fear of the elderly or mental illness as a main plot?
May you find your Muse.