Thanksgiving is synonymous with family. But this year, things are looking different, and it might mean you won’t venture to the airport during what is generally the busiest travel week of the year (a crowded airport in 2020—now THAT’S a horror story). It’s sad to set aside family traditions like dinner around the table, a rousing round of Clue, and placing bets on who will fall asleep first during the annual viewing of A Christmas Carol. But, family time isn’t always warm and cozy. If you’re only experiencing all that family tension and drama over Zoom this year, you might sigh in relief.
So, whether you love your family togetherness time or prefer to tolerate them in small doses, here’s a list of isolation horror to get you in the mood for spending the holidays alone, or perhaps to make you thankful for all the times you were able to celebrate as a family.
The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher
Reminiscent of House of Leaves by way of Annihilation and the Upside Down from Stranger Things, this novel follows newly divorced Kara as she moves in to her uncle’s museum of curiosities. When she discovers a hole in the wall and a hallway that shouldn’t physically exist, what lies beyond the locked door at the end will reveal a strange new reality that wants to keep her there.
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun
This is a strange tale about control, most specifically not being able to control your own body and being at the mercy of anyone around you—no matter whether their intentions are good or not. Think Misery by Stephen King, but more psychologically damaging. It feels very claustrophobic, dealing with the internal struggle of a man who is paralyzed and at the mercy of his less-than-kindly mother-in-law.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okarafor
In this far-future post-apocalyptic tale, a young woman escapes as the only survivor of her African village after a genocidal attack. She wanders the desert alone and gives birth to a daughter whom she names Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” It then becomes Onye’s destiny to end the genocide of her people. This fantasy novel covers a lot of ground and offers a unique blend of Afrofuturism.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
This period horror tale set in 1937 follows Jack, who is down on his luck and agrees to join in on an Arctic exploration. Once they get to the barren and frigid spot, they slowly begin to realize that they might not be as alone as they originally imagined. This one is best enjoyed by a warm fire or with a cozy mug of tea!
Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin
If you’ve only got time for a short tale, make this one your pick. This 33-page post-apocalyptic novelette follows an explore who returns to a climate ravaged Earth, home to no one anymore—or so they think. Who (or what) was left behind on Earth, and what are they now?
From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon
Gordon is an author who delights in isolation. This book (and its sequel When the Sleeping Dead Still Talk) follow Isabella, a woman grieving the loss of her child who is sent to a “hotel” (read “asylum”) by her husband to convalesce. Stuck in this isolated place with no hope of escape, she begins experiencing strange things, but are they drug-induced hallucinations or something more supernaturally sinister?
We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson
I couldn’t put together this list without mentioning the queen! Jackson’s work often features themes of isolation, whether it is in setting or in psychological mindset. Castle has a bit of both, with sisters Merricat and Constance living a secluded and ostracized life in their family’s mansion. Quirky with dark gothic underpinnings, this one rewards reading and rereading.
Audra helps manage the Ladies of Horror Fiction Instagram page and composes author profiles. She also contributes articles and helps maintain the website.