By Katherine Tomlinson
Even though Stephen King writes like a maniac (in a good way), turning out more books in a year than some people do in a lifetime (Harper Lee, we’re looking at you), eventually there comes a time in everyone’s life when he has read every book King has written (even Rose Madder) twice. So what’s a fan to do? It’s not that easy to find writers whose books share King’s signature blend of great characters, heart-felt emotion, and horror that’s grounded in everyday reality. When you want to read a Stephen King book, you want to read a Stephen King book and not something by V.C. Andrews. Being offered an ordinary horror novel in the place of one by the master is like being hungry for a home-made chocolate chip cookie and being offered Snackwells instead. Yes, it’s a chocolate chip cookie but it’s not the chocolate chip cookie you want.
Luckily for you, at Horror Snark, we’re fans too and we understand your particular and selective craving. We’ve compiled this list of books to help you feed your need for a King-like reading experience while you’re waiting for King himself to finish his own next novel. Also luckily for you, if you pace yourself just right, you’ll finish the last book on the list just as Joyland arrives (June 4).
You’re welcome. Feel free to send us home-made chocolate chip cookies in gratitude.
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Almost every school kid in America has read “The Lottery,” Jackson’s most famous short story and a staple of English courses. Her 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is one of the greatest haunted house stories ever written. Not only is it genuinely creepy, but the author’s portrait of the main character, a woman who spent years caring for her invalid mother, only to be cheated of her inheritance, is beautifully drawn, as are the other characters who are chosen to participate in a paranormal investigation at the eponymous Hill House. Jackson’s prose is so beautifully crafted that her opening and closing paragraphs are close to poetry.
2. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Probably the only novel ever inspired by an eBay listing, Heart-Shaped Box revolves around rock star with an enormous sense of entitlement and really bad taste in collectibles, an innocent little girl and a malevolent ghost who ruined several lives in life and plans to wreak even more havoc in the after-life. Rocker Judas (“Jude”) Coyne has run roughshod over the people he’s known, and all his sins come home to roost when the heart-shaped box arrives. Unfortunately for Jude, he’s not the only one in the ghost’s sights.
3. Swan Song by Robert McCammon
This is McCammon’s epic work, a post-apocalyptic tale of retribution and redemption and rebirth that’s often compared to King’s novel The Stand. The story takes place after a nuclear exchange has laid waste to America and chronicles the adventures of a group of survivors who must contend with the forces of chaos, represented by “the Man with the Scarlet Eye.” The characters here are ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary accelerated evolution of humankind and adjusting according to their natures. Some seek power and domination while others, like the homeless woman known as “Sister,” are searching only for peace. Sister is a powerful character whose deliverance from guilt and sorrow provides the book’s emotional backbone.