Finding a Novel that is Strange but Also Everyday
October 12, 2012 4:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a novel that strikes a tone between the strange and the intimate/everyday. I've been watching a lot of Fringe lately and I've been in the mood for a book that provides characters interacting with Lovecraftian, Lynchian, or Cronenbergian horrors while the characters themselves remain (or attempt to remain) relatable and slice of life.
posted by sendai sleep master to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 113 users marked this as a favorite
Lolita by Nabakov. Perhaps the best book I've ever read. In many ways it's more bizarre, desperate, and alienating than any of the surrealists, existentialists, or freak-out literature like Burroughs' Naked Lunch.
posted by uhom at 4:14 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mefi's own cstross/Charles Stross has a series of novels set in a universe where Lovecraftian horrors are real, and the subject of intelligence one-upmanship by very, very secret intelligence agencies. The protagonist is a system administrator for the Brits -- he inadvertently stumbled onto the math required to summon some sort of extradimensional horror, so to keep him out of trouble, they recruited him. The series starts with The Atrocity Archives and while I haven't seen Fringe, the general idea sounds in the same ballpark.
posted by Alterscape at 4:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

Perdido Street Station?
posted by Cosine at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry fits right in, although it gets very weird at the end.
posted by lmindful at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Carroll is really good at this. Try Land of Laughs.
posted by Wordwoman at 4:24 PM on October 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

In the same vein as the Laundry novels is Résumé with Monsters. Sort of a Mythos version of Office Space. It's been a while since I've read it, but I recall enjoying it.
posted by brundlefly at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Hellboy graphic novels.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd think American Gods fits this description - actually, so do Neverwhere and Coraline, all by Neil Gamain.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Christopher Priest's The Glamour
posted by mannequito at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2012

It's funny, Wordwoman, that you should mention Land of Laughs. They name drop it in Fringe, during an early episode. Perhaps that's a good place to start. All the same, keep the suggestions coming, folks, I appreciate all the suggestions.
posted by sendai sleep master at 4:36 PM on October 12, 2012

+1 American Gods. First thing I thought of.
posted by colin_l at 4:36 PM on October 12, 2012

The "supernatural urban detective" fantasy genre occasionally manages to hit this spot (although admittedly there's also a lot of "Mary Sue, The Vampire Fucker" dross). I enjoyed Ben Aaronovich's series recently.

What about magical-realism-influenced books from the English fantasy tradition?
posted by hattifattener at 4:37 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is secretly my favorite 'genre', if I'm understanding you correctly.

Murakami, especially Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
The City of Glass trilogy by Paul Auster.
The Locke & Key series of graphic novels.
Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and At Swim, Two Birds.
Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, sort of. But it's a great book!
The Raw Shark Texts.

I should be able to think of a million more, hmm. I'd stand behind any of the books above, though.
posted by luxperpetua at 4:37 PM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

House of Leaves by Danielewski. (kept me up at night)
posted by amaire at 4:46 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding Murakami.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:49 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kelly Link's short story collections, primarily Magic for Beginners, secondarily Stranger Than Fiction.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:05 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

First Light by Peter Ackroyd?
posted by littlerobothead at 5:06 PM on October 12, 2012

nth-ing Haruki Murakami.
posted by thack3r at 5:19 PM on October 12, 2012

The October Country - Ray Bradbury.
posted by brighteyes7 at 5:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, Murakami.
posted by lulu68 at 5:27 PM on October 12, 2012

2nding Perdido Street Station. Freaky, horrifying and unforgettable. Fits your description to a tee.
posted by gnutron at 5:30 PM on October 12, 2012

Much lower-brow than most of these suggestions, but funny: John Dies At The End and its sequel, This Book Is Full Of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It) by David Wong. In which the only two people on the planet prepared for the Cthulu-like supernatural shitstorm turn out to be David and John, two slackers with an unfortunate affinity for the weird. Chilling and funny, sometimes within the same sentence.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:30 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, maybe Never Let Me go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
posted by thack3r at 5:33 PM on October 12, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton.
posted by pullayup at 5:51 PM on October 12, 2012

Amy Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt short story collection.

More Gaiman: The entire Sandman series.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:03 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things by Tim Powers? The Stress of Her Regard for historical and Declare or Three Days to Never for modern, perhaps.
posted by hattifattener at 6:13 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

The single best adaptation of Lovecraft to the big screen is Ghostbusters. Taking that into account...

If you like magic and monsters and the horrors of fairyland in ordinary North America, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman is your ticket to ride.

If you like ordinary, relatable people in horrific circumstances in a land of magic and wonder, Terry Pratchett and China Mieville are the ones to turn to.

Lovecraft in the 21st? Charles Stross plays it for laughs in his Laundry series, which doesn't work all that well. He mixes Lovecraft with Pratchett with X-Files, and in my opinion, it kind of falls flat. Stross is too mechanistic, and tries too hard to impose order on the unknowable.

If you want to be scared out of your wits reading about Lovecraftian horror set in the later half of the 20th century, however, read his online novella, A Colder War. It's one of my favorite short stories, ever.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:44 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man. I need to come back to this when I've got a chance to go over my bookshelves. One recommendation I can toss out right away is Laird Barron, but- and this is important- only his short fiction. He has two amazing short story anthologies, The Imago Sequence and Occultations, and a sadly disappointing novel (The Croning) and a novella that's only slightly better (The Light Is the Darkness). I mention him specifically because along with Lovecraft (two of his best and most-anthologized stories, "Hallucigenia" and "The Broadsword," are straight-up tributes to HPL's "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Whisperer In Darkness" respectively), he draws heavily on body horror, altered states of consciousness (especially "The Royal Zoo Is Closed" and the Lynch-via-J-horror "The Procession of the Black Sloth") and one deeply upsetting non-supernatural horror story originally written for a Poe tribute anthology ("Strappado").

I cannot stress how important it is not to start with The Croning- not just because it isn't very good (sad but true; he doesn't really seem to have hit his stride with novel-length stories just yet) but because it will make absolutely no sense if you haven't read a half-dozen or more other stories of his that it more or less explicitly references.

You also might want to seek out the anthology The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. I haven't had a chance to read it myself yet, but it's loaded with this sort of thing.
posted by Merzbau at 6:52 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

...and I see you're requesting novels. D'oh.
posted by Merzbau at 6:55 PM on October 12, 2012

No, by all means, request short stories. I just had novels on the mind when I wrote the post but I think anything that orbits the tone is great/useful.
posted by sendai sleep master at 7:06 PM on October 12, 2012

And I don't know if this is useful but still using the show, Fringe, as my jumping off point one of the things I find compelling in it is that the characters will be out dealing with the bizarre and the unknown and then they'll be home, de-stressing and pouring a bit of whiskey into their cornflakes or listening to a favorite record. I'm really looking for the bizarre side by side with the poignantly mundane.

Everything suggested thus far has been helpful, I'm not sure if what I just said helps specify but thank you for all the suggestions thus far everybody.
posted by sendai sleep master at 7:12 PM on October 12, 2012

My Idea of Fun, by Will Self.
Great Apes, by Will Self.
My Work is Not Yet Done, by Thomas Ligotti.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:46 PM on October 12, 2012

I'm all of four episodes into the series, but what Fringe is really about is a gothic/romantic updating of the Mad Scientist. Walter Bishop is a man who could, if he chose, end the world. No sane man would possibly choose to end the world! Walter Bishop, welllll...

... he has an exceptional support network. The stuff you like about that series - and the stuff I like, too - is in comic book terms, labeled "Down Time." What you do when you aren't saving/destroying the world. Part of what makes the series so special is that it balances the horror with the human so well! I don't think there are too many novels out there that do it as well as Fringe does it.

But, it's worth noting, all of Terry Pratchett's characters have hobbies and interests and friends outside of work, be it king or wizard or housekeeper.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:54 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about Dirk Gently's stories? I really loved The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
posted by carsonb at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I will second Charles de Lint, my favorite of his, Moonheart, involves ordinary people confronting some very strange things. Also see The Little Country, by him as well.
posted by Alensin at 8:34 PM on October 12, 2012

Both of these are, I think, Lynchian:
Christopher Priest, as previously mentioned, and also The Inverted World.
Alex Garland's The Coma
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:21 PM on October 12, 2012

Baffled that nobody has mentioned Philip K. Dick. He is the master of the quotidian everyman sci-fi/fantasy. Try "The Man in the High Castle," "A Scanner Darkly" or "Flow My Tears the Policeman Said."
posted by pynchonesque at 9:24 PM on October 12, 2012

Sounds like you'd enjoy Caitlín R. Kiernan. I recommend reading

Daughter of Hounds
Low Red Moon

in that order which is, strictly speaking, chronologically backwards.

Here is the non-spoiler book review wherein I argue the merits of this approach. And FWIW, the author liked the approach of reading them backwards too.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:47 PM on October 12, 2012

Sounds like you are looking for slipstream stuff?

I'd heartily recommend Michel Faber's Under the Skin. It is definitely oddball and unsettling - but also filled with day-to-day bits. It's currently being made into a film starring Scarlett Johansso - I dread to think - so read the book before it gets shredded to pieces on the big screen.
posted by kariebookish at 12:57 AM on October 13, 2012

Seconding PKD.

[Slap*Happy: You are by your own admission four episodes into a show that is now in its fifth 20+ episode season. You might want to wait a bit before making any overarching statements about Walter. Any more would be spoilers.]
posted by Su at 2:25 AM on October 13, 2012

In between all of these (added onto my own reading list!), you could sip some of the short stories of the grandfather of the genre, M.R. James, with a cup of tea, in the dark..

"Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.… Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage."
posted by Erasmouse at 3:48 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to mention Murakami, but that's been covered.

I would add Roberto Bolaño to this list. I'm reading 2666, his "magnum opus," right now. The other one that people seem to love is The Savage Detectives.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:20 AM on October 13, 2012

John Dies At The End is very weird throughout, but the main characters pretty much play it straight. Gets repetitive, though.
posted by zardoz at 7:10 AM on October 13, 2012

Anything by Daryl Gregory should meet your requirements.
posted by tdismukes at 9:03 AM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Period Street Station is a good one, but Kraken, by the same author, might be an even better fit for what you want.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:00 AM on October 13, 2012

Seconding Jonathan Carroll, and suggesting The Wooden Sea and its follow-up, White Apples.

His blog is a good glimpse into what his mind/books can be like... worth the time investment.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:47 AM on October 13, 2012

I just want to say that though the Laundry Files may sound like it's not very strong on the everyday side of things, it really is. The main character has problems with, you know, coffee and whatever.

Also, The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. The main character is piecing together someone else's life (total amnesia), dealing with Horrors from Beyond, trying to fill out paperwork, and so on.

Christopher Fowler's Bryant & May novels might or might not do. They're about two grumpy old men who investigate awful weird crimes of the human (probably) variety as a special British government office, but 1/3 of the story is Bryant and May fussing at each other and being eccentric old men and another third is about London itself, as a character. I love these books to pieces and have no idea why they aren't more popular in the US. The second book is much better than the first book, though.
posted by wintersweet at 4:50 PM on October 13, 2012

this may be a longshot, but there's a guy named Sean Stewart who writes about Texas families in which magic is very real and very much a part of the everyday round. He writes very well and I've always loved his work.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 6:52 PM on October 13, 2012

Ooh, Sean Stewart is a good suggestion, Lipstick Thespian! I like his stuff too. I don't know how much quotidian activity is in the foreground in his books but there's certainly a theme of ordinary people who still have their mundane human concerns even though there's magic stuff going on.
posted by hattifattener at 8:14 PM on October 13, 2012

Shadow Unit by Emma Bull (and others)
Available online here
posted by krieghund at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2012

I've been thinking about this question for days and as I'm sitting down to catch up to the latest episode of Fringe as we speak I realize that a lot of my love for this show is because it feels similar to me to Madeleine L'Engle's Kairos books, particularly those which describe the first generation of the Murrys--A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The first and last, particularly, do a good job of showing a family with a scientific genius father whose work for the government plunges his bright children into a world of unspeakable breadth and wonders (and horrors, too). It also nicely contrasts their otherworldly adventures with domestic comforts. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the family's Thanksgiving dinner is interrupted by the impending end of the world (and a unicorn). L'Engle's writing in the early books is strong (I can't say the same for her Polyhymnia books), lyrical, and pretty and easily accessible for grown-ups. And Meg Murry is pretty much the realest teenage girl ever written.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:10 PM on October 16, 2012

Thomas Pynchon would fall into this category, I think. Particularly The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland.
posted by Timmoy Daen at 6:41 AM on October 18, 2012

Forgot to say, this is an excellent question, thanks for posting it. There are a lot of suggestions here I'm eager to check out.

Oh, and Horns by Joe Hill might be another one.
posted by Timmoy Daen at 6:51 AM on October 18, 2012

Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory, Walking On Glass and The Bridge
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:14 PM on October 19, 2012

Suprised no one has mentioned Dan Chaon's books. Look into his latest short story collection Stay Awake, or his novel Await Your Reply.
posted by brighteyes7 at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2012

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