1. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. Paranormal researchers try to understand the inner workings of a haunted house—with devastating results. Primarily the story of Eleanor, one of the subjects involved in the research, The Haunting of Hill House describes her journey into the dangerous vortex of the house and her own psychological distress. Up is down, black is white, and the disorienting world of Hill House warps both the minds of its characters and its audience with deft and heartless skill.
2. House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. There are few novels more strange, well-assembled or engrossing than House of Leaves. When I purchased it, I was looking for a distraction from my personal upset with the U.S. political crisis of 2005 (don’t ask.) Boy, did I get it. House of Leaves, which is kind of like The Never Ending Story on acid, takes a family’s experience in a house that is somehow larger inside than it is outside, then draws the reader into their nightmare in a slow, hypnotic fashion. Don’t read it at night.
3. Hell House, by Richard Matheson. Yikes. Through terse, masterful prose, Matheson brought to life the world of a mad man’s abandoned mansion as it is perused by investigators of varying philosophical bents, from scientist to psychic. Notable to me for its unique concept, (too many haunted house stories are about normal places that ‘went bad,’ Matheson’s work is about a house made bad by an appalling criminal) Hell House is a tour-de-force through everything imaginably terrifying about encounters with ghosts, mental illness and malevolence.
4. The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Few haunted house stories deal with the modern, the contemporary, or what might be negative or shocking about either. In far too many films, books and stories, modernity is contrasted with antiquity as relief or respite from the horrific elements of the past. After the gory trek through the haunted Victorian behemoth, for instance, the tortured group of characters returns to their comforting suburban tract house. Not so in The House Next Door, in which a modern home is the source of all things destructive and debilitating. Unhappy with what contemporary life has done for your city, your neighborhood? The House Next Door is the book for you.
5. Burnt Offerings, by Robert Morasco. If you liked the 1976 t.v. movie, check out the engrossing novel that inspired it. Burnt Offerings manages to be both historical mystery, horror novel and magic show; its complex plot uses clever smoke-and-mirrors twists to deceive readers, who can get as caught up as its characters in the maze of clues leading to the story’s shocking climax.