We’re back with a staff contribution of the 5×5! This week, SWC’s publisher Lauren Tresp shares her top five picks for horror and poetry.
I’ve been looking for a real scare over the last month. I love horror as a genre, but nothing I consumed gave me that thrilling feeling of fear. I tried TV (Midnight Mass was so awful and cringey that I would like those five hours of my life back, please), I tried some high-brow horror films (Saint Maud and My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To were both beautifully made but offered nothing that felt at stake) and a book (A Certain Hunger received a tantalizing review in the New York Times, but was too pretentious and lazily trashy to finish). Nothing doing.
In reflecting on these disappointments, I realized that the things that have been scaring me the most are not outright horror, but stories in which something horrific ripples just beneath the surface, piercing through in fits and glimpses. As such, all but one of my recommendations for this week are works that prickle and haunt. The fifth pick is sheer goodness, which you’ll undoubtedly need by the time you get to the end of this list.
—Lauren Tresp, SWC publisher + editor
by Lydia Millet
A Children’s Bible reads like a biblical allegory but without any clear metaphors or proscriptions. The story follows a group of children on holiday at a sprawling summer house with their parents. While the adults drink and party and the children supervise themselves (they are not so much disaffected as they are embarrassed and derisive), an apocalyptic climate event destroys large parts of the house. In response, the parents pop ecstasy, leaving the children to fend for themselves.
by Ottessa Moshgfegh
If I hadn’t first read Moshfegh’s more recent book, Death in Her Hands (also excellent), I might have thought My Year of Rest and Relaxation was going to be more self-help-y. In fact, Moshfegh turns the self-help genre inside out as the narrator—a misanthropic, miserable, beautiful woman in her 20s—tries to drug herself into sleeping for a year (the year 2000), in her Upper East Side apartment in an attempt to transform anew on the other side, while 9/11 looms in the distance.
by Virginia Woolf
I picked up Mrs. Dalloway, it seems, at the same time as many others. It is ostensibly about a day in the life of a socialite woman in 1923, running errands before a high-society party she is throwing at her London home. However, Woolf’s addicting stream-of-consciousness narration of a rather dull day is shot through with hauntings, loss, and existential crisis in the wake of the Great War, the 1918 Spanish flu, and repressive attitudes toward sexuality and mental health. The soaring writing is enough to keep me rapt, but the themes continue to be compellingly relevant in our current moment.
by Maxim Loskutoff
The weirdest item on this list, Ruthie Fear is something of a coming-of-age story that follows the eponymous character through life in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. As a young girl, she sees something—a scary, impossibly headless creature—at the edge of a canyon. The specter of the creature hangs in the background of the novel as the rural community falls apart at its seams: the mill closes, poverty pervades, and wildfires rage while a secretive science lab moves into the area. After a slow build, the final twenty pages unleash terrifying, unpredictable—but not completely unforeseeable—disaster.
podcast / On Being Project
And now for something completely different. Hosted by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, each episode of Poetry Unbound opens with a reading of a single poem, which is followed by a short, thoughtful interpretation of the piece, and closes with a second reading. Sometimes, when it’s a challenge to wake up in the morning, I sip my coffee, hit play, and close my eyes while listening to Ó Tuama’s contemplative, accessible analysis, which nearly always skews toward a higher plane of insight and heart. Despite my penchant for darkness, Poetry Unbound is nothing but goodness and light, and there is no better way to start the day.