Storyville: The Top Ten Things I Read in 2014

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This list is kind of unconventional. Sure, there are novels on here, books you can run out and buy. There are a few short stories here as well—online and otherwise. But there is also some fiction you can’t get yet, and even a foreword makes the list. I hope these ten items give you some voices to read now, to look for in the near future, and to track down in a year or so. Anticipation, right?


'Bird Box' (ECCO) by Josh Malerman

Rarely does a book come along that captures my attention like Bird Box, by Josh Malerman. I cannot remember the last time I was so enthralled, so captivated, so consumed by a book. I read it in one sitting over Thanksgiving. This is the story of what happens when creatures appear on Earth, so horrible that merely looking at them will drive you instantly and violently insane. It reminded me a bit of I Am Legend, with its bleak tone and sense of isolation. There were times that I was literally sweating, unable to put the book down, but so terrified by what was happening that I couldn’t look away. And this is Josh's debut novel. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

“The children sleep under chicken wire draped in black cloth down the hall.”

Buy Bird Box: A Novel from Amazon.com

 

'Spent' (Rare Bird Books) by Antonia Crane

Maybe you caught Antonia Crane on Lisa Ling’s show, This is Life. Or maybe you read her story, “Sunshine for Adrienne,” in The New Black (Dark House Press) which I edited earlier this year. Or maybe you ran across her writing in Black Clock. This memoir is a powerful book, the story of one woman dealing with her life choices—to strip for money, to deal with her family, to evolve into something more—a writer and teacher, perhaps. There are moments that are both sexy and surreal, heartbreaking and inspiring, but she never flinches in telling her truths, never shies away from moments that reveal the humanity and imperfections in us all.

“It was Christmas night, and Kara and I had a client at the Four Season in Beverly Hills…”

Buy Spent: A Memoir from Amazon.com

 

When I Make Love to the Bug Man” by Laura Benedict (PANK)

One of my favorite magazines is PANK. What a wide range of compelling and provocative fiction. Recently, I ran across Laura’s story while selecting fiction for an upcoming anthology. I've known Laura for years, her husband being Pinckney Benedict, the circles we travel often overlapping. We even shared a spine, for the first Noir at the Bar anthology. Her voice is one of reason, even domestic, but also dark and surreal. When she weaves a tale like this one, it pulls you into the web that has been cast, lulling you into a sense of complacency, before the wheels fall off, and the urge to run, to disappear takes over. An unsettling, sensual, and disturbing story that has stayed with me all year, and continues to unhinge me.

“Bug Man, Bug Man, who came to save me from the spiders.”

 

'Exigencies' (Dark House Press) foreword by Chuck Wendig

When you put together an anthology like Exigencies, reading over 300 stories in order to find 20 or so, it’s a draining, exciting, moving, and daunting task. When you then pass that collection of fiction off to an author as talented, unique and dynamic as Chuck Wendig, you sit by the computer and wait for the words, “I have to pass.” Or maybe, “I don’t think I have time after all.” I knew the anthology was something special, but that didn’t mean Chuck would feel the same way. What I got back from him was vindication, entertainment (he always makes me laugh) and a great way to kick off the second anthology at Dark House Press.

“These writers have spat the poison on the window. Take a look. Lick the glass.”

Buy Exigencies: A Neo-Noir Anthology from Amazon.com

 

'The Wasp Factory' (Simon & Schuster) by Ian Banks

Written in 1984, The Wasp Factory is not a new book, but it’s one that’s been on my to-read list for a very long time. It’s a haunting story, one set on a Scottish island, filled with violence and sadism. There are scenes in here that I can’t erase from my mind no matter how hard I try. There are revelations that will disturb, and moments of vengeance that are riddled with mystery, ritual and obsession. I don’t like to flirt with madness, it feels too often like it might want to stay, but there are moments in this book that rocked me to my core. It’s a thin volume, and can be read in one sitting, which may or may not be the best way to digest it. Be strong, be unafraid, and be prepared.

"I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me."

Buy The WASP FACTORY: A NOVEL from Amazon.com

 

'Sharp Objects' (Random House) by Gillian Flynn

Hard to believe, but I think I like this book better than Gone Girl. When our protagonist goes back to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls, we see that she is still rather damaged herself, her body covered in scars and cuts, her family so very dysfunctional. She is there as a reporter for a small Chicago newspaper, but gets pulled into the murders in unconventional ways. There are twists and turns, as is to be expected, but the ending is hard to see coming. If you liked either of her other books, be sure to pick this one up. Tense, unnerving, and oddly alluring, it’s a hypnotic story, a rollercoaster ride for sure.

“My sweater was new, stinging red and ugly.”

Buy Sharp Objects from Amazon.com

 

'Scratch' (Dark House Press) by Steve Himmer

Yes, I know, another book that you can’t read yet, another title from Dark House Press. BUT…but…I feel like I have to share this secret with you, to let you know what’s coming. This novel is about a rural legend, Scratch, and a man who lives alone, succumbing to the woods around him, luring others into the darkness, leading to tragic results. This lyrical, poetic, and captivating novel is a book that will grab you from the first page and never let go. I fell into it and couldn’t get out, and I’m very excited to bring it to you in early 2016. It was one of the most exciting books I read all year, so I had to put it on this list.

"We’ll wear the shapes of coyotes, to slide more easily under the scrub and travel closer to the ground.”

 

Jimmy O’Jimmy” by Vincent Poturica (Smokelong Quarterly)

I was invited to be a guest judge over at Smokelong Quarterly, earlier this year, and of the dozens and dozens of submissions I read, this was the one I chose as the winner, for that week. What I like most about this story is the hypnotic voice, the singsong way it unfurls in one, long, extended sentence. It is sweet, heartbreaking, violent, and touching—everything I look for in a story. When you read a ton of submissions, often what you’re looking for is a voice that stands out in the crowd—that breaks conventions, and keeps your attention, all while fondling your heart. For flash fiction, it packed in a lot of story in a very short space.

“…I sucked the blood off my fingers and slept in your barn that night, you say it's alright for me to sleep there, your parents don't mind, I watch the spiders hang down from the barn roof…”

 

'Come Closer' (Soho Press) by Sara Gran

I wish Sara would write more books like this one. Come Closer is one of my all-time favorite books, and I re-read it this year while doing research for The Breaker. It is a novel that really upsets me; it makes me very uncomfortable, in many different ways. I don’t like mirrors (just ask Caleb, Nik and Axel) and I don’t like demons, especially when presented in a casual, atypical manner. Much like Blair Witch, this book will either scare the hell out of you, or do nothing at all. The way it changes from annoyance, to danger, to possession, to futility is heartbreaking. The permanence of it all is just crushing.

“That evening I was telling my husband, Ed, about the little mystery at work when we heard the tapping for the first time.”

Buy Come Closer from Amazon.com

 

“Thorn-Tongue” by Sarah Read

Have you ever written a story and thought THIS IS BRILLIANT and then sent it out into the world only to have it get rejected by 10, 20, 50 publications? And then you start to question everything—your instincts, your talent, the world around you? I have. I had the privilege of reading Sarah’s story as it was being developed. And after it was done, I thought to myself, “This is really special. She’s breaking out, this will get her some attention.” But so far, it hasn’t found a home. I’ve seen her send it out, and I’ve heard about the rejections, and I keep telling her to be patient, to send it higher, more places, because an editor is going to snatch it right up. Could be me, if it bounces around too long. Lyrical, dark, and layered in mythology, it’s a mystical fairy tale that lives in contemporary times. I love it. And I hope you’ll get to read it soon, too.

“Yellow eyes dripped honey at her through the darkness.”

What about you guys? Read anything amazing this year?

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.

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Comments

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life December 29, 2014 - 9:56am

Been hearing a lot about Bird Box. Gonna have to check that out. Wasp Factory is one of my all time faves.

Michael Sean LeSueur's picture
Michael Sean LeSueur from Arizona is reading The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlin R. Kiernan December 29, 2014 - 10:09am

All of these sound terrific! Picked up "Come Closer" for Christmas, and I'll be picking up the rest ASAP!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies December 29, 2014 - 10:14am

fantastic. hope you guys enjoy those books!

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 29, 2014 - 10:34am

According ot my own goodreads ratings, the best fiction books I read in 2014 were:

  • Houellebecq's The Map and the Territory
  • Barnes's The History of the World in 10&1/2 Chapters
  • Byatt's Ragnarok
  • Mann's The Tables of the Law
  • Beckett's Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On December 29, 2014 - 11:20am

I'm on the last three chapters of 'Wasp Factory.' Been parselling them out since last week upon realizing each segment is its own self-contained piece of perfection. I'm only bummed it has taken me this long to discover it. 

Next on the docket, Whitmer's 'Cry Father.'

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies December 29, 2014 - 11:47am

nice, dino. yeah, i've got CF sitting right here, too, been dying to tuck in.

.'s picture
. December 29, 2014 - 1:34pm

Nice list! Can't wait to read Exigencies.

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters December 29, 2014 - 8:29pm

I have to say, I wasn't as impressed with Sharp Objects as I wanted to be.  I expected to be blown away and right from the start I found the narrator a little flat and the outcome predictable.  May be a case o expecting too much, but I just wasn't blown away.

Also, I started it immediately after finishing Lindsey Hunter's Ugly Girls - which was phenomenal.  So that could have had something to do with it.  It was no Lindsey Hunter. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list December 30, 2014 - 5:10pm

Will have to add some of these to my wish list. I haven't done much reading this year (outside of grading and re-reading books with my students in class). However, I did read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. It's been on my classroom bookshelf for ages because I teach one story from it, so I finally decided to read all of them. Such a wonderful short story collection. I also read Cat on a Hot Tin Roof which is fantastic. The other 12 books I read are not worth mentioning. Most of them were "potato chip" or "brain rot" books that I wasn't very impressed with. I'm hoping to get more reading done in 2015.

DaveShepherd's picture
DaveShepherd from Calgary is reading No Country for Old Men December 30, 2014 - 6:31pm

Loved Bird Box. Favorite book from 2014. I'll be adding the rest of these to my to-read list.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies January 5, 2015 - 5:27am

Green Girl By Kate Zambreno was beautiful and sad and brilliant. Cruddy by Lynda Barry changed my life. I read both of those this year, that's all that really stands out.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 5, 2015 - 2:06pm

Loved GREEN GIRL.