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What to Read Next (No. 245): Vintage Spooky Reads for October
Featuring "Rebecca" and "The Dead Zone"
Happy Friday, readers!
Tomorrow is October! Wild. If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that I enjoy spooky reads in general, but especially during October. It’s the perfect seasonal pairing.
Today, I’m excited to recommend Daphne de Maurier’s classic Rebecca, which I really enjoyed but haven’t heard many real readers talk about, despite being found on a number of “classic books to read” lists.
I’m also highlighting an underrated, under-read Stephen King book that I wouldn’t have known existed without going through his work chronologically.
Happy Scaretober! Let’s jump in.
P.S. Rest in peace, Hilary Mantel. The revered author of the Wolf Hall Trilogy passed away this week. Though I DNF-ed Wolf Hall (a couple times), there’s no doubt about the impact of her writing and the way she nearly single-handedly revived the historical fiction genre.
Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier (1938)
A sprawling, spooky mansion in the English countryside. A mysterious husband, Maxim de Winter, who’s not only a recent widower but also still has some demons to work out. A deceased wife, Rebecca, whose memory torments the halls of that spooky house. A heartless maid who remains fiercely loyal to her dead boss.
If that’s not the set-up for a spine-tingling story, I don’t know what is.
This is all narrated by a young woman, the new wife, who we only ever know as the shy and demur Mrs. Maxim de Winter. The reader is quickly brought into the tension of her unlikely romance and marriage to the exceedingly debonair Maxim de Winter.
But the real star of the show, as even our narrator admits, is Rebecca. She’s the one who was tailor-made for the glitzy parties and luxurious lifestyle of the Manderley estate — not the new Mrs. de Winter. Though there aren’t actual ghosts in the book, the spirit of Rebecca is present on every page. Our narrator becomes wholly engulfed and haunted by her memory.
From the very first line, which is often referenced as one of the most memorable of all-time, the voice of Mrs. de Winter shines through:
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Daphne de Maurier immediately sets the tone for a moody, melancholic, dream-like story.
Throughout the novel, de Maurier’s style is elegant without being pretentious — which is such a difficult balance to find. And there are a couple plot twists that were both jaw-dropping and believable, which is also really hard to pull off.
The trifecta of excellent writing, superbly crafted characters, and a driving, engaging story is always what makes for a 5-star read in my book — something that Rebecca pulls off without a hitch.
It’s not a book that would ever fall into the traditional horror genre, but makes the skin tingle no less. By the end, I found Rebecca to be an incredible mix of Amor Towles, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Great Gatsby, and Downton Abbey.
I highly recommend this one for any fan of gothic, moody stories set in the English countryside.
The Dead Zone by Stephen King (1979)
I get a lot of questions about where to start with Stephen King. His most well-known titles — The Stand, It, Pet Sematary, The Shining — are great for people who know they enjoy intense (and often weird) horror reads.
But what if you know you’re not into the intense stuff and you just want to dip your toes into the King waters rather than dive in?
The Dead Zone might just be the perfect place to start.
Ever since a childhood accident on the ice, Johnny Smith — what a name for a protagonist — has been able to see little glimpses of someone’s future as soon as he touches them. This leads to all kinds of relational problems, as would be expected.
But the real story takes hold when Johnny shakes the hand of an ambitious, dirtbag politician whose career path goes further than anyone thought possible.
What lengths will Johnny go to in order to stop this man? Can we really change the future? What if Johnny’s glimpses don’t always give the full picture?
There's almost no horror in The Dead Zone. It's pretty much all crime/political/medical thriller, with a touch of paranormal thrown in. It has elements of everything I love about King — the world-building, the fully developed characters, the crisp-but-unglamorous writing — and its 500+ pages flew by.
If you’re King-curious, give this one a shot.
That’s it for me this week! I so appreciate the time and inbox space.