It’s that time of year—when plastic skeletons leer at you from every corner, foam tombstones rise from the most unexpected places, and fun-sized candy bars turn up in all your pockets.
Spooky season is great and all, but sometimes you need a break. So, if The Shining startled you into a senseless stupor or We Have Always Lived in the Castle left you utterly unsettled, don’t fret: We posted four brand-new guides for not-so-spooky stories that might help lower your heart rate and drown out the ever-present Halloween.
Written in Bone by Susan Black
Okay, sure, there are skeletons in this first title, but it’s not what you think! Rather than skeletons of the spooky-scary variety, forensic anthropologist Susan Black writes about the skeletons telling the stories of mankind, the bones that hold the history of our past—our homes and diets, our lives and deaths.
Black describes how forensic anthropologists use science to decode the mysteries of our post-mortem, looking at growth patterns, density, and damage to understand how a person—whether historical or contemporary—lived and died. The book describes how forensic anthropologists become fluent in the language of the body and explains the hidden clues that cover us from head to toe, lurking just beneath the surface. Okay, maybe this one is a little spooky if you’re squeamish. Sorry!
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Are you driven to succeed? Something of a Twitter addict? Ready and willing to plagiarize your dead best friend’s work to earn the acclaim you feel you deserve? If so, you might be June Hayward. When Athena Liu, an acclaimed Asian-American author and June’s close friend, unexpectedly dies, June steals Athena’s final novel, deciding to pass it off as her own.
June’s decision spirals outward, coming to represent the inequity and appropriation that, even today, Asian-American writers face. If cutting satire and biting humor are your cup of tea, we’d recommend skimming our chapter summaries while you wait for Yellowface to stop flying off shelves faster than you can get to the bookstore.
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
Scotland. The lives of declining writer William Ainsworth and those who call his estate home intertwine with that of Andrew Bogle, a formerly enslaved man forced to work in Jamaica’s sugar plantains. Their lives collide during the Tichborne Trial, a real-life case in which a poor American laid claim to the estate of one of England’s wealthiest men, and the story melds into an eight-volume dissection of fraudulence as it appears in both the case and in the people, nations, and contexts it exists within.
In Smith’s characteristic style, this work of historical fiction is as confronting as it is subtle, finding space in tumultuous, real-life events to nudge readers toward revelations about modern life. Her exploration of the Tichborne Trial mediates on fact and fiction, yet it takes no stance on either, instead indicating that “truth” is not always true—often, it’s a story told by the winning side of history. The Fraud is complex and charged with the vivid but restrictive context of its time—maybe gender roles aren’t as scary as It, but we’re still shaking in our boots a little bit.
We Spread by Iain Reid
Reid, a Canadian author known for his psychological prose and evocative imagery, turns his gaze toward an underserved population in this 2023 novel, exploring what it means to experience dementia, to lose one’s grip on life and reality. Through the first-person narrations of Penny, an elderly, widowed artist sent to live in a long-term care facility after experiencing a near-fatal fall, Reid underscores the ageless fears that define us all.
At times, the story is unmistakably mysterious, buoyed along by thrilling elements and science fiction allusions. At others, it softens, unfolding with empathy and compassion for Penny’s gradual but ever-present loss of self and reality. Lovers of literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and explorations of grief, loss, and self: Reid was writing for you!
So, there you have it! Four not-so-spooky stories for our not-so-spooky readers. From historical fiction and psychological thrillers to forensic anthropology and meta-literary fiction, we published it all this month. Still not what you’re looking for? Check us out at enotes.com to brush up on classic literature or discover new must-reads!