Night Reading: Horror and Hope

I don’t have a specific book or movie in mind to write about this time around. I just have some thoughts from two book readings I’ve attended in the past month, and a brief podcast episode I recorded about a book that shook me to my core in the best possible way – forcing me look into my soul mirror – so-to-speak.

I’m fortunate enough to live in a city a lot of authors make appearances in during their book tours. I got to sit in and listen to C. Robert Cargill and Joe Hill in conversation about Cargill’s newly released horror short-story collection, We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories, and Hill’s previously released four-story banger, Strange Weather at Harvard Coop. The most interesting part was that they didn’t talk about the new books, but instead had a very organic and thoughtful discussion about how they fell in love with horror and writing, and ultimately how they ended up crafting successful novels/films. It’s always comforting to know those you look up to fell in love with the genre for the same reasons you did: Empathy, human connection and hope. Their conversation was also a perfect reminder to work hard for the things you love, and to remember that just because you love something doesn’t make it any easier to achieve, it just means you care enough to withstand the really bad days. I like that.

This sentiment was mirrored again last week at Brookline Booksmith when I got to see Paul Tremblay and Caroline Kepnes in conversation about their new novels, The Cabin at the End of the World (Tremblay) and Providence (Kepnes). Tremblay talked about the hope and comfort he finds in horror – no matter how gruesome – because it’s ultimately about human resilience and the choices people have to make. This is how he knew he loved horror in the first place because it’s built from empathy. I get it. I’m sure we all do.

E.E. Cummings had it right, feeling is first, which is why I’m always confused when someone says they don’t like horror. It’s okay not to enjoy reading horror, but to say you don’t actually like it is to admit that you don’t like feeling. That’s a pretty bold claim, if not an outright lie if you think about it, so unless you’re a sociopath, I don’t believe you.

Also, major side-note, Tremblay is funny and charming and I think I love him? I want to be his best friend. He embarrassingly knows this.

Kepnes shared how she almost got into a car accident one day in LA and she was afraid that the other driver was on their phone, it turns out they weren’t, but she thought about what it would be like not being able to reach someone when you needed to, especially since we live in such a tech-heavy-constant-communication type of world now. What if something bad happens to you and you don’t have any way to communicate with your loved ones that something bad has happened, or worse, if you need help? Inspired, she wrote the story of Jon, a teenaged boy who suddenly vanishes. His story and disappearance ripples down to his friend, Chloe. It sounds like an original story that incorporates modern love with horror and supernatural elements. To paraphrase Kepnes, she said, “I thought it would be interesting to take this young boy, someone who is looking forward to life and all it has to offer, and then to rip that away and see what happens.” She continued, “I wanted to write about how people become Joe Goldberg (the main character in her previous novels, You and Hidden Bodies), I wanted to write about what makes people the monsters they become.”

And all of that brings me to this: I read The Fisherman by John Langan a few weeks ago with my very dear friends at Eerie. I had a viscerally personal reaction to the book.

The Fisherman, to shortly sum up its beauty, is about grief and death and how death can affect the way you live with yourself and with others. When life is ripped away so suddenly, how do we cope? How can we? Although topically heavy, the book provides the reader with a sense of comfort (or it did specifically for me) because there’s a way to escape the clutch grief holds us in – it doesn’t mean everyone does – but it means everyone tries and that’s all we can hope for in the end. Isn’t it? But it also poses the question, what if there is no end? It’s a killer book and it really makes you think about these things. It settles in your bones.

Speaking of, it’s been a very difficult, yet inspirational month for me. It’s been difficult because everything I’m reading lately seems to remind me of Jared, who I have painfully missed for the past seven years. August is really when shit hits the fan and I crumble a little bit, and July is truly me working towards getting ready to cry for a month straight. He’s the reason I interpreted The Fisherman so personally because I’m starting to find comfort in the fact that he never leaves me – just because someone is gone doesn’t mean they’re not there, and that was probably the most uplifting, and inspiring thing about the book (even though eventually it gets taken to a very horrific level).

The Fisherman helped me face the fact that losing contact with Jared before he died does make me feel guilty because I’m a human and I should take better care of my friendships in general, as we all should, but he knows I loved him and I know he loved me and that’s all I need to feel okay. I’ve kissed a person who is no longer breathing. My date to freshman semi-formal is now dead and I had to say goodbye to him standing in front of his open casket when he was bloated and bruised and didn’t look like himself anymore. The person who sat on the couch and watched “Garden State” with me when I was 15 – it was the scene where they’re sitting by the fireplace after swimming in the pool talking about the buzz they have, and Zach Braff says to Natalie Portman, “And I like you. So there’s that. I guess I have that,” and he turned to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “And I like you. So there’s that.” And I thought, wow, I like you, too – is gone. And that was probably the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me since. And we were so young once, and he reminds me of that. How am I 26 now? How am I 27 in 5 days? But then we broke up, since most 15-year-old romances fizzle our when the summer dies, and then we were 19 and I saw him a handful of times around our neighborhood and we always called each other our favorite ex and talked about how we should catch up, and then we finally made plans to see each other but then life got in the way because sometimes people die, and sometimes people die at 19 in freak motorcycle accidents, and sometimes your best friend wakes you up with a phone call and says, “Elana, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how to tell you this, but Jared died last night.” And your heart breaks into one million pieces in an instant and you’re never the same again because things have permanently changed.

But all of that doesn’t mean we should stop living. It doesn’t mean we should stop grieving either, but maybe we can make the choice to change the way it feels to do both of those things. Maybe we can make a choice to feel something different. I’ll miss him forever, and I know that’s okay. There’s hope and there’s a choice – in real-life and fictionalized horror – after all. I know everything I’ve been falling in love with lately has been healing me in tremendous and surprising ways. Life is alright even if it gets a little scary sometimes.

To hear The Fisherman episode I recorded for Eerie, visit We’re going to be recording a new bonus episode on The Cabin at the End of the World SOON so make sure to check that out as well!

That’s all I’ve got. Until next time, don’t be afraid, and go buy and read (ASAP) The Fisherman by John Langan, We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill, Strange Weather by Joe Hill, The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, and Providence by Caroline Kepnes.

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