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Open Thread: Most Disturbing Book Ever?
Whether You Like or Despise the Spooky, Macabre, and Grotesque, What Are the Most Unsettling Books You’ve Read?
I’ve never been a fan of horror as a genre, but people love it. Same with thrillers, suspense, true crime, and other stories that can raise your pulse along with the hair on the back of your neck. I’m curious about the most disturbing story (or stories) you’ve ever read. Share in the comments.
For me? Without a doubt, it’s Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God.
You Better Hope Not
The novel begins with a man standing by a barn door, Lester Ballard. “He is small, unclean, unshaven,” says the narrator. “He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A child of God much like yourself perhaps.”
You better hope not.
Ballard is soon evicted from his home. He then squats in an old shack and, after accidentally destroying it, moves into a cave. Progressively crazy, increasingly violent, he kills women and then abuses their corpses, which he stockpiles in caverns deep in the mountainside. All the while, his dispossession and dehumanization intensify until the climax.
What’s the Point?
As horrifying as the story is, Child of God invites the right sorts of questions. What makes people do terrible things? Is it, for instance, their own corrupt nature or the alienation of society?
When the actor James Franco turned Child of God into a movie, he asked McCarthy why he wrote it. ”I don’t know, James,” McCarthy answered, “probably some dumb-ass reason.” But that can’t be. He cares too much about refusing easy answers for that to be true.
Later the story, for instance, after hearing about “a bunch of lowlife thieves and cowards and murderers,” a young man asks an old timer if people were meaner in the past than the present. “No,” he says, “I don’t. I think people are the same from the day God first made one.” That’s a depressing thought. But you’re the reader, and the reader gets a vote: Do you agree?
That’s perhaps the real value of spooky, scandalous, and disturbing books—beyond whatever entertainment they afford. And given how off-putting these books can be, it might be the only redeeming value for some of us: They force us to engage with questions we mostly leave unasked, unconsidered, and unanswered.
But now I hand this post to you.
What’s the most disturbing book you’ve ever read, fiction or nonfiction? Add it to the comment thread below, and feel free to include what the book made you think about—or any other observation on unsettling books for that matter.
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