Monsters Among Us: Seven Novels and Stories that Will Make You Look Twice at the People (?) Around You

Last Updated on May 15, 2023

Let’s say you’re riding in an airplane, or better yet, a crowded bus. You and your fellow passengers are all pressed up against each other, nudging and bumping at the knees and elbows, mumbling apologies, trying not to overhear one another’s cellphone conversations, trying not to glance at the pages of one another’s books (or trying, at least, not to get caught glancing). It would be a tough place, there in the middle of that thick stew of bodies, to conceal some monstrous secret—palms covered in lupine fur; acid-yellow eyes wrapped in doubled, reptilian eye-lids; a pair of long, glistening fangs—or to discover such a disquieting secret in the guy on your left buried deep in his hoodie, or the woman standing too close behind you, her cloying perfume not quite masking some other ranker scent.

Why do we love the idea of monsters hidden among us? Perhaps it’s that old othering instinct that looks for strange dangers everywhere and fears finding them, above all, within our own camp. Or perhaps it springs from our own personal sense of otherness and alienation, our compulsion to painstakingly hide away our own monstrosity from polite society. Whatever the case, the tales that present us with monsters at the edge of town, monsters in the house across the street, even monsters right under our noses, have been chilling and delighting readers for a very long time. My debut novel, The God of Endings, with its vampire-passing-as-preschool-teacher protagonist, joins this long literary lineage, but I’d like to offer you seven other tales from classic to contemporary that will make you look twice at the people passing by on the street, or even at your own reflection in the mirror.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Cover for The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonI would give anything to have gotten to read this electric tale without spoilers back when it was first published. Robert Louis Stevenson’s famed novella, which masterfully tells the tale of a lawyer’s growing concern for a dear friend who’s been acting very curiously of late, has become so iconic that the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” is now shorthand for astonishing villainy concealed behind a seemingly innocent exterior. Despite the fact that everyone knows the ultimate plot twist, the tale is still utterly gripping and magnificently crafted. If you haven’t read it already, you simply must.

About the book

Stevenson’s famous exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil, has become synonymous with the idea of a split personality. More than a moral tale, this dark psychological fantasy is also a product of its time, drawing on contemporary theories of class, evolution, criminality, and secret lives. Also in this volume are “The Body Snatcher,” which charts the murky underside of Victorian medical practice, and “Olalla,” a tale of vampirism and “The Beast Within” which features a beautiful woman at its center.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Cover for Bram Stoker’s DraculaI’ll be honest, my feelings on Bram Stoker’s choice of the epistolary form for this seminal vampire romp are mixed, but what can’t be denied is the cinematic magnificence and potent creeping dread of so many of the brilliant sections of this novel. Jonathan Harker’s iconic hair-raising stay in Count Dracula’s castle is iconic for good reason. That’s (literally) just the beginning though! There’s also the delightfully chilling coffin-bound voyage of the count; the predation of sweet, unsuspecting Ms. Lucy Westenra; as well as a madman in a jail cell who passes the time by doing disturbing things with flies. Best of all, though, may be the only lightly touched plot point of the count’s sinister ambitions for the city of London. The book is an absolute horror salad and a must read.

About the book

Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread undead curse, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. The novel touches on themes such as the role of women in Victorian culture, sexual conventions, immigration, colonialism, and post-colonialism.

Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, he defined its modern form, and the novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film and television interpretations.

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The Daemon Lover by Shirley Jackson

Cover for The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley JacksonDoes any writer do a better job than Shirley Jackson at exploring that fine, porous boundary between the everyday and the monstrous? Her short story collection, The Lottery and Other Stories, portrays monsters of an astonishing variety, from a town that buys peace through human sacrifice, to a community that punishes a new resident for failing to exhibit enough racism. My favorite tale from the collection, however, is The Daemon Lover, a subtle, magnificently eerie story of a young woman looking desperately for love, and finding it, only to be both literally and figuratively ghosted.

About the book

One of the most terrifying stories of the twentieth century, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948.

“Power and haunting,” and “nights of unrest” were typical reader responses. Today it is considered a classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for its combination of subtle suspense and pitch-perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.

The Lottery and Other Stories, the only collection of stories to appear during Shirley Jackson’s lifetime, unites “The Lottery” with twenty-four equally unusual short stories. Together they demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range―from the hilarious to the horrible, the unsettling to the ominous―and her power as a storyteller.

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Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Cover for Solaris by Stanislaw LemWhat if the monster was all around you? What if it was not only all around you, but also within you? What if it could peer inside of you and then take the form it knew you most longed for? This is the predicament in which a crew of astronauts find themselves in Stanislaw Lem’s gorgeous and haunting science fiction novel from 1961. It was adapted into a movie starring George Clooney that’s well worth watching, but don’t deprive yourself of the reading experience, which is equal parts imaginative sci-fi, heart-breaking romance, and pulse-pounding horror.

About the book

When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?

Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

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Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

Cover for Mary Reilly by Valerie MartinAfter you follow my advice and read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, follow it up with Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, which tells the same classic harrowing tale, but from the perspective of the house maid. The protagonist’s second-class gender and socio-economic status ratchet up the tensions as Mary tries, by her limited means, to make sense of doors slammed in the night, frightening intruders, the stomping of rough steps on the landing, and the growing dread that all is not well in the Jekyll household.

About the book

From the acclaimed author of the bestselling Italian Fever and award winning Property, comes a fresh twist on the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, a novel told from the perspective of Mary Reilly, Dr. Jekyll’s dutiful and intelligent housemaid.

Faithfully weaving in details from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Martin introduces an original and captivating character: Mary is a survivor–scarred but still strong–familiar with evil, yet brimming with devotion and love. As a bond grows between Mary and her tortured employer, she is sent on errands to unsavory districts of London and entrusted with secrets she would rather not know. Unable to confront her hideous suspicions about Dr. Jekyll, Mary ultimately proves the lengths to which she’ll go to protect him. Through her astute reflections, we hear the rest of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, and this familiar tale is made more terrifying than we remember it, more complex than we imagined possible.

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Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Cover for Let the Right one in by Lohn Alvide LindqvistIt’s as though, when coming up with his internationally bestselling vampire novel Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist asked himself, what is the most unexpected and chilling shape that a savage, blood-thirsty monster could take? The answer: a small, frail child with big eyes, a disarming manner, and a strange talent with Rubik’s Cubes. Lindvist’s novel is itself a Rubik’s Cube of intricate plot-lines and finely drawn characters that is both a literary and horror delight.

About the book

It is autumn 1981 when inconceivable horror comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenager is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last―revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door―a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night. . .

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The Apartment Dweller’s Beastiary by Kij Johnson

Cover for The Privilege of the Happy Ending- S:M:L StoriesAfter all the blood and gore and dread of the aforementioned tales, cleanse your monster palette with this whimsical gem of a story that was featured in Clarkesworld and Best American Science Fiction, and will now be included in her upcoming collection The Privilege of the Happy Ending: S/M/L Stories, which comes out in October from Small Beer Press. It offers a helpful encyclopedic resource for renters on the various monsters—some pleasant, some not—that one might expect to encounter peering out of ovens, hiding in the dark depths of cupboards, or roosting in bathroom vents. Thoughtful and lyrical, Kij Johnson’s story will scratch the itch of any who wish Dr. Suess hadn’t only written for children.

About the book

A surprising and exciting new collection of speculative and experimental stories that explore animal intelligences, gender, and the nature of stories.

The Privilege of the Happy Ending collects award-winning writer Kij Johnson’s speculative fiction from the last decade. The stories explore gender, animals, and the nature of stories, and range in form from classically told tales to deeply experimental works. The collection includes the World Fantasy Award-winning “The Privilege of the Happy Ending” and “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe,” as well as two never-before published works.

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Jacqueline Holland’s new book The God of Endings is out now.

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Jacqueline Holland

Jacqueline Holland holds an MFA from the University of Kansas. Her work has appeared in Hotel Amerika and Big Fiction magazine, among others. She lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and two sons. The God of Endings is her first novel.

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