October is here, and we the people demand to spend it scared out of our wits. Happily, Big Publishing is responding: how else to explain the timing of two of the biggest (literally and figuratively) new releases of the fall? Two enormous horror novels by two very different authors have arrived in lockstep to remind us that sometimes, scary things come in giant packages.
First, there is Stephen King’s latest, The Institute, a 561-page homage to and continuation of some of his classic themes. In the middle of the night, young Luke Ellis is spirited away to a secretive facility, the titular Institute. Soon, he discovers he’s being kept a comfortable prisoner there alongside other children who have been taken, all of them—like him—displaying various shades of telekinetic or telepathic powers. As you’d expect from a King story, the kids aren’t there to enjoy the comforts of a warm bed and a good education.
The Institute is a tense, twisty thriller that’s reminiscent of King’s (also thick) Firestarter and also perfect for fans of modern sci-fi horror like Stranger Things. While it doesn’t truck in the lurid horror tropes that powered King’s early career (think the mega-scary like of Pet Semetary, IT, and The Shining), it’s unnerving enough to keep your white-knuckled grip on the book long into the night.
Similar vibes emanate from Imaginary Friend, the door-stopping 720-page creeper from Stephen Chbosky, whose previous novel was the slender ’90s coming-of-age classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Seven-year-old Christopher has just moved to Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, fleeing with his mother from her abusive ex-boyfriend. Shortly after they arrive, Christopher is lulled by supernatural means to the Mission Street Words, into which he disappears for six days. When he returns, he remembers nothing of what happened to him, but is fixated on his strange new mission, which involves a treehouse, the woods, a “nice man,” and the “hissing lady.”
Dread hangs over every last sentence of the story of Christopher and Mill Grove, growing in intensity as the line between worlds real and imagined blur.
Hundreds and hundreds of pages of mounting unease spiked with intermittent jolts of absolute terror—what’s not to love? Here are five more books in the same vein: chunky horror sagas that’ll keep you shivering all spooky season long…
IT, by Stephen King
True, we already mentioned King’s latest, but it’s hardly a list of giant horror novels if we don’t send in the clown. With seemingly more pages than there are people in Derry, Maine, IT is a classic for a reason. Pennywise—dancing clown, slayer of suburban children—is an evil who knows no end and can take any form that might make you wet yourself. It feeds on terror, and mightily so, across decades of plot, 1,100 pages of story, and two feature length films. Has there ever been a longer, more persuasive endorsement to avoid sewers at all costs?
Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons
Who’s better at discovering the sources of true evil than gangs of young children in small town America? Apparently no one. The setting is the 1960s Midwestern prototype of Elm Haven, Illinois. When a classmate disappears on the last day of school, the aforementioned group of 12-year-old kids investigate, uncovering more than they bargained for: a conspiracy of long-missing children, a ghoul in a World War I uniform, ancient evils, and very real, very present danger. If you’re looking for a kids-on-a-terrible-adventure tome to stand alongside Stephen King’s IT, Dan Simmons’ paean to childhood resiliency is the real deal.
The Good House, by Tananarive Due
The expanded page count of The Good House allows Due to broaden her story well beyond the confines of a simple haunted house narrative. The Sacajawea, Washington, home in question has been in the Toussaint family for generations. For Angela Toussaint, the house has brought nothing but pain, most recently playing host to the death of her son in its basement. She’s ready to sell the wretched place, but it has more sinister ideas, and all of them lead back to a curse unleashed by Angela’s grandmother Marie. It’s tragedy—with a dash of the supernatural—that drives the horror here.
NOS4A2, by Joe Hill
Like father, like son. Joe Hill steps into dad Stephen King’s voluminous footsteps with this nearly 700-page ride in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. Weaponizing the jolliest of holidays, Hill introduces Charles Manx, notorious kidnapper, who nabs children in his Rolls-Royce (the license plate of which is the title of the novel) and transports them to Christmasland, a nightmare place far more ghoulish than elven. The person who may put an end to Manx’s reign of evil is none other than his once almost-victim, Vic McQueen, now an embittered adult on a mission of vengeance astride her trusty motorcycle. There’s gore galore—including a henchman of Manx’s who wears a terrifying gas mask when he kills—but its the air of omnipresent menace and melancholy over the prospect of losing your childhood to trauma that will stick with you.
Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami
Judged solely by the amount of mayhem it unleashes, Takami’s infamous dystopian novel resides in the upper echelons of gory horror. By the end of its 600 pages, almost everyone must die. In an Orwellian alt-Japan, one junior high class is selected each year to compete in a winner-takes-all contest—or, as you’d probably put it, slaughter each other until only one remains. Each student is given a weapon and a directive: fight to the death. Only one of the 42 15-year-olds will be allowed to leave alive, and the long, long journey to that sole survivor is tense, gruesome, and bloody business.
What’s the longest horror novel you love?