Due brings readers into this experience with eerie, beautiful prose that gives the novel a shimmer of the otherworldly. There is a moment when Hilton sees a woman hovering in the “murky phosphorescent gray-green mist” coming off a swimming pool only to discover, when he looks closer, that it is Nana. Is it a ghost? A memory? Or simply refracted light in fog? Thanks to the constant blurring of reality and hallucination, nightmare and memory, the reader becomes as unsettled as Hilton.
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Daryl Gregory’s startling literary horror novel, REVELATOR (Knopf, 333 pp., $27), begins as Stella Wallace returns to the backwoods of Tennessee to live with her grandmother Motty. Stella and Motty’s kinship is instantly recognizable: They have an inherited condition that colors their white skin with splotches of red. But the women are special in other ways. They were born part of a line of Revelators, women who communicate with the God in the Mountain, a monstrous being who lives in a cave near the family’s cabin.
Stella communes with the God, taking on his thoughts and relating his messages to a growing group of followers. But such divine communion demands a steep price. The messages live inside her long after she’s left the cave, inhabiting her mind and body, even creating stigmata. In one scene Stella, laid out on a slab of rock, is offered up to a monster: The God “slipped down toward her through the dark — a limb, flat as the foreleg of a praying mantis. Its torso became visible, a pale mass gleaming like mother-of-pearl. Half a dozen limbs fanned out behind it, gripping the rock.” Stella’s reaction isn’t terror, but closer to falling in love: “She’d never seen anything so beautiful.” And indeed, “Revelator” is a thing of beauty, brutal in the vein of Cormac McCarthy, a novel in the Southern Gothic tradition that is fresh and deeply disturbing.
In Stephen Graham Jones’s MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW (Saga/Simon & Schuster, 398 pp., $26.99), Jennifer “Jade” Daniels is the ultimate “horror chick,” a 17-year-old slasher film obsessive who dyes her hair blue, works as a summer janitor at her high school and struggles to break free from her abusive father. Jade sees the world as a horror film, wearing “slasher goggles” that color and distort her vision. When Jade meets Letha Mondragon, a rich girl from a gated community across the lake, it’s only natural that she casts her as the Final Girl in the slasher film of her life.
Jade, “the death metal girl, the D&D girl, the devilchild, practically was the walking, talking cover for ‘Sleepaway Camp II.’” She’s pure candy for fans of the genre. But Jade is also a deeply damaged young woman. She struggles to communicate and lies to herself and others, all while trying to come to terms with a traumatic past. Though she does ultimately find a way to the truth, for much of the novel she is a distant, perplexing character, one whose contradictions put her at a remove from everyone, including the reader. While this may be the point — someone like Jade isn’t ever going to be relatable — it makes for a frustrating protagonist.