Trick or treat: fact or fiction?
When it comes to things that go bump in the night, are you a straight-shooting skeptic who wants the evidence behind the enigmas, or do you revel in tales of the supernatural? Whatever you fancy, we’ve got a grab bag of five new Halloween-appropriate reads. Leave the lamp on!
Our favorite mortician is back to tell us all about corpses! In From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, Caitlin Doughty, the bestselling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, explores the variety of ways cultures around the world deal with their dead. As she travels across the globe, stopping everywhere from Bolivia to Japan, Colorado to Spain, Doughty is a respectful observer of all that unfolds, even when confronted with death rites that appear strange to eyes accustomed to the Western practices of burial and cremation. In a remote region of Indonesia, families make sure their loved ones are never forgotten by regularly visiting their graves, retrieving the body to be washed and redressed, and filling them in on the latest goings-on. In the U.S., a movement to normalize more natural ways of handling the dead—sans chemicals, sans coffin—has gained traction. Yet each tradition from every culture Doughty observes is an expression of respect—what may seem ghoulish to one is the ultimate form of love for another.
THE SPIRIT REALM
In the mid-1800s, the Spiritualism movement and the belief in communication beyond the grave gripped American minds. In a time when technology—like telegrams and photography—was rapidly creating miracles, the ability to communicate with the dead didn’t seem too far-fetched. The Civil War further fanned the flames of Spiritualism, as grief-stricken families sought to speak to their loved ones one last time. But as the excitement of Spiritualism swept the nation, William Mumler was dubious. So when a self-portrait he took while alone in a photography studio showed a girl sitting beside him, he assumed it was a technical error. But then he realized that he recognized the girl in the photo. It was his cousin, who had died 12 years prior. Thus begins the bizarre story of photography, ghosts, grief and lies that plays out in Peter Manseau’s fascinating The Apparitionists. Mumler, aided by his wife, who called herself a healing medium, went on to create a business based on these “spirit photographs,” even taking a photo of the widowed Mary Todd Lincoln that showed her dead husband’s hands lovingly resting on her shoulders. In the battle between science and Spiritualism, science eventually won. But the desire to peek beyond the veil of the living may never die.
Aaron Mahnke’s “Lore” is one of the most popular podcasts out there. Of course, entertainment with a supernatural or mythological bent has always drawn listeners, but Mahnke’s talent and appeal come from his desire to put stories about creatures such as the wendigo and haunted dolls in context. He caters to both the Mulder and the Scully inside us all by presenting these fantastical tales alongside impeccable historical research. The first of a planned trilogy, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures follows a very similar format to the podcast—for fans, these stories may be a bit too familiar, but the uninitiated will find much to explore. Pick almost any mythical monster, and you’ll find it via organized chapters: For records of vampires, try “The Dead Returned”; you’ll find skin-crawling historical tales of doppelgängers in “Our Other Halves”; and if you’re into specters, try “Beyond the Veil.” Mahnke’s tongue-in-cheek asides make these tales great fun, and the book is wonderfully designed with Edward Gorey-inspired pencil illustrations. And for fans who just can’t get enough Lore, a television series is on its way to Amazon.
A CHILL IN THE AIR
Literary horror fans know that there are few authors as deft at marrying pulse-pounding action and a sense of inescapable dread than Joe Hill. Fans of his masterful thrillers NOS4A2 and The Fireman will find plenty to love in his new collection of four short novels, Strange Weather. The unifying theme here is the sheer terror that the unapologetic forces of nature can instill in us, but Hill cleverly sets the detached whims of the weather against the calculated, deliberate actions of sinister individuals. In “Loaded,” a shooter attacks a shopping mall while a wildfire propelled by wind decimates thousands of acres outside. “Rain” follows a group of survivors in Boulder, Colorado, after an apocalyptic rainfall of “needle-sharp amber glass . . . hard as quartz.” With each story spanning around 100 pages, this is the perfect collection to split up into a few satisfying chunks as we creep closer to Allhallows Eve.
THE WOMAN IN WHITE
“Just because you can’t see a thing doesn’t mean she isn’t there.” But who is she, and what is she? When she was alive, she was Emma Rose, an Irish immigrant who found her way to a small logging town in Northern California. But even now, after her death, she still feels like Emma, though she’s more of a spectator now—taking in the church bells each morning, the seals on the shore and the scent of wildflowers on Evergreen Hill. Emma has been lingering in her mortal home known as the Lambry House for 100 years, and she’s determined to remain there (much to the horror of the home’s new residents), even when a supernatural hunter comes to forcibly scrape her out. M Dressler paints a moving, chilly portrait of a woman’s afterlife in The Last to See Me, perfect for fans of Lauren Oliver’s quietly haunting ghost story Rooms.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.