Looking for something a little more cerebral this Halloween than underwear models with fangs? You can’t do better than the new issue of Granta: “Horror.” The 117th volume of the British literary journal offers
a bone-chilling selection of fiction and nonfiction. But this isn't the usual cauldron of terror.
As usual, the wide-reading editors of Granta have interpreted their subject broadly and creatively. Oh sure, there’s a witty story from Stephen King with a final line as delicious as a cup of O-positive. But it’s the other bones in this bag that surprised me more. The British novelist Will Self writes about discovering that he suffers from a strange condition called “Polycythaemia vera,” which makes him “gorged with blood.” The American poet Mark Doty explores the surprising personal connection between Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker. (Where’d you think Dracula got all that sex appeal?) There’s also a chilling essay by
Santiago Roncagliolo about the Shining Path terrorists in Peru, and wonderfully eerie stories by Rajesh Parameswaran and Sarah Hall. (In the spirit of the season, they even did some grave-robbing to get a story from Roberto Bolaño.)
From his office in London, Granta editor John Freeman tells me this issue was inspired by the publisher’s 15-year-old nephew. “Maybe we should listen to 15-year-old readers more often,” he says. “They don’t divide what they read into genres. When you’re that age, you just read what you’re compelled to read.”
With so many literary authors crossing over into horror (Chris Bohjalian and Colson Whitehead just this month), fewer readers are turning up their noses at the bloody arts. “Horror is archetypal in a way because all good writing involves some kind of encounter,” Freeman says. “What’s exciting about horror — whether it’s the genre or something horrible in a so-called literary novel — is that it’s about our encounter with our own reaction. That’s what makes horror a far better genre than I think we realize. It’s about what haunts us.”
The new issue is just hitting bookstores now. I dare you.