All the Lovely Bad Ones: Creepy Children in Scary Books
Forget the terrible twos, last week’s blog Horror Books that Go Bump in the Night list led to a discussion of Rosemary’s Baby and other similar tales in which parents suffer at the hands of their offspring. None of the children in the following books are supernatural and I suppose that's what make them so terrifying.
Like in any dark fairytale, a couple's charmed life is interrupted by the arrival of a child. At least that is the case with the following two titles. It’s not so much the kids but the parents who need a timeout in Breed by Chase Novak. More than anything Alex and Leslie want a child and they get their wish through an experimental fertility treatment that transforms the wealthy couples in NYC into something feral. The couple in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child also have everything going for them: four wonderful children, a beautiful home, loving friends and family. Then they decide to test their luck by adding another child to the mix. Not a good sign when the baby is described as a “troll or a goblin.”
Gillian Flynn broke out with Gone Girl but my favorite book of hers is her first novel Sharp Objects. There’s so many levels of wrong here. After years of self-imposed exile reporter Camille returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of two pre-teen girls. She stays with her hypochondriac mother and her beautiful half-sister who takes her mean girl role in the town to whole new levels.
The Bad Seed by William March and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson show that previous generations also found creepiness in kiddies. It's a question of nurture vs. nature in Bad Seed. Even a mother’s love cannot blind Christine Penmark from suspecting her daughter of killing a classmate. This book was nominated for the 1955 National Book Award for Fiction and the film version was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956.
“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”
And so begins Shirley Jackson’s last novel. This is one you will stay up reading all night just to figure out what exactly happened that fateful day when Merricat and her elder sister Constance managed not to eat blackberries sprinkled with arsenic that killed most of their family.
While looking up these titles I ran across two other books which I immediately placed on my hold list: The Other by Tryon Thomas and Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. Any others you can think of?