The first book that was the scariest book ever was The Shining. I read it, in retrospect, way too early. I don't think i was past 11 and maybe a year or so younger. I was young enough that I kinda still thought that hedge animals might actually come to life and try to get me, that ghosts might lurk in the closets or on the playground. Adults are such a mystery to children at that age as well; the idea that my nice normal dad, that anyone's nice, normal dad, could go batshit crazy and try to kill you was also terrifying. Throw in that Stanley Kubrick shot of the blue twins in the hallway and you've got my nightmares.
When I was a few years older I read Red Dragon. That was then the scariest book I'd read. My fears at 13 revolved around sex and death, particularly bad death, and the Other from Outside who could sneak into your home and brutalize and murder you terrified me. Strangely, Silence of the Lambs wasn't as bad, perhaps because there are a couple strong female characters in that one.
Now, as an adult, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is the scariest book I've read. I won't rehash the plot but the idea of living in a totalitarian, Christian conservative patriarchy is about the most frightening thing i can think about. Scarier than war, or peak oil, driving everyone to the country to survive by subsistence farming. I love my father, and my brothers, and my boyfriend but i can't imagine being subject to them, forever, without any freedom or ability to act on my own.
Particularly frightening bits
- The President and the Congress are murdered which the military and the "Sons of Jacob" blame on Islamic terrorists, then use the threat of terrorism to suspend the Constitution
- Women are the property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. When a man has reached a high enough status he's given a wife, and if high enough he earns one or more Marthas, who are the housekeepers and menial servants, and a Handmaid.
- Women are not allowed to read. at all, not even the Bible. In fact, other than doing the daily food shopping, Offred doesn't seem to be allowed to do anything; it seems her job is to sit in her room until called upon for the Ceremony or her walks. I can't imagine how boring that would be. The Wives knit and garden and can visit each other while the Marthas do the cooking, cleaning and other household tasks. At least they have something to occupy their time.
- The mental rape experienced at the Red Center. The way her life is erased.
- The fact that throughout this book I was gauging myself: would i try to escape and risk death? could I be mentally strong enough to be the hypocrite that could mouth the right words and go through the motions without going crazy? would i be brave enough to be true to myself, knowing i may be executed or sent to die in a polluted wasteland? would i give up and just become one of them?
So, read this. a 7.