Sometimes, in a crisis such as the one we’re currently facing, you just need an escape. Horror is a perfect genre for that, with a field so versatile and diverse that there’s bound to be something you can find, a way to set your own nightmares aside and vanish into someone else’s for a while. But when you’re inside for long periods of time, sometimes it’s easy to burn through seven or eight shorter or average sized works and then be left with nothing to read. Thankfully, there’s a vast, dark ocean of longer works available for those times when you’re stuck inside and need a much longer read to get you through. Here are a list of favorites, all clocking in at five hundred pages or more.
House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
Most peoples’ point of entry into the world of metafictional horror, House of Leaves is a surreal and sometimes disorienting journey into the world of Johnny Truant, a former mental patient working as a tattoo artist’s apprentice in Los Angeles. One night, while cleaning out a dead neighbor’s apartment, he finds a manuscript titled House of Leaves about The Navidson Record, a film that seemingly doesn’t exist – a professional photographer’s documentary about the odd pitch-black space inside his house that seems to change dimensions at random. These two stories overlap, with Johnny adding his own edits, footnotes, and comments to the manuscript and detailing the odd downward trajectory his life takes as he becomes further obsessed with the book. While at times the narrative trickery can get a little exhausting, the formatting and nested stories help the book burrow into your brain and illustrate the story in unusual but fully engaging way.
Swan Song, Robert McCammon
McCammon’s massive magnum opus, an apocalyptic epic about a mutated devil figure, a saintly young woman, and the various people caught in a nuclear holocaust that envelops the United States has made a resurgence in recent years, popping up in a variety of book clubs and reading discussions all over the place. It’s easy to see why: not only does the apocalypse fit with our current times without being too on the nose (lookin’ at you, The Stand), but it’s a vast and imaginative work, with twisted creature designs, terrifying mutants, and a Satan figure who’s an upsetting grotesque even before the whole business gets started. But McCammon’s apocalypse adds tumors that can either turn a person beautiful or horrifying depending on how good they are, a terrifying encounter in a shopping mall, and enough gross and nasty detail to keep the reader recoiling but riveted all the way through.
The Good House, Tananarive Due
Due’s novel takes off right from the start, opening with its mysteries quickly with an exorcism scene and a suicide at a Fourth of July party, setting up an already unnerving atmosphere. Building on this, Due weaves a deep story that could sit alongside the classics of gothic horror, bringing in family secrets, an odd ring, invisible presences, a small town stuck in stasis centered around an old mansion, and of course, the house of the title. But while a modern gothic would be excellent in and of itself, Due suffuses the story with a deep understanding of trauma, adding a wrenching amount of emotional truth to the gothic horror as entertainment lawyer Angela Toussaint has to figure out how to put her life back together while at the same time dealing with horrifying possessions, backward townspeople, her grandmother’s creepy house, and her own trauma. It makes for a much deeper, more affecting read, and pushes things a little further beyond the usual haunted house theatrics.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
A suspense-thriller about a reclusive filmmaker, Night Film is a gorgeous, moody, and dark work. Scott McGrath is a reporter who crashed and burned after his attempt to expose director Stanislas Cordova ended in scandal for him. When he meets Cordova’s daughter Ashley, a young woman who soon dies in an apparent suicide, he sees it as a second chance to take Cordova down and tie him to his daughter’s death. But as with every horror-suspense plot, Scott quickly finds himself in over his head, stumbling through dark web pages and exclusive clubs with an air of menace as he tries to figure out who his allies are and how much of what he’s seen is just Cordova’s further manipulations. A book like this lives and dies on mood and atmosphere, and Pessl worked this out with an extensive amount of worldbuilding, with the book unfolding over the course of letters, film reviews, transcripts, and even illustrated dark web pages interwoven with the story of McGrath’s downfall. While the ending does leave quite a bit of confusion, the ride down is superb enough and well executed enough to deliver some surreal, hallucinatory, and lingering terror for those readers willing to take the plunge.
Imaginary Friend, Stephen Chbosky
Chbosky’s second novel after young-adult classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower finds him focusing on much eerier but no less prosaic matters, charting the disappearance, reappearance, and aftermath of a young boy who wanders off into the woods on his way home and reappears six days later with no memory of what happened. But as with any traumatic experience, things don’t go back to normal, and Christopher finds himself fixated on a project for the “nice man” he met in the woods. The town of Mill Grove is well fleshed out even before Christopher disappears into the woods, and Chbosky’s grasp of his world and main character makes the whole thing feel horrifying and a little dreamlike in places, but entirely “real.” It’s an eerie and unnerving, if long, work, and well worth the ride .