7 Dark, Monstrous Books by Marginalized Writers
Alex DiFrancesco, author of "Transmutation," recommends novels where society’s outcasts are the heroes, not the monsters
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
For many people living marginalized lives, the monstrous is only a step away at any time. That man walking down the street —a neighbor or an assailant? The person in your workspace or classroom—are they about to turn on you, show how they’ve always felt? A crime happens—will the police fix it, or, more likely, make you a victim all over again? The monstrous is always a brief turn, a simple what-if, away.
It doesn’t surprise, then, that many minority writers take on the monstrous in their works of fiction. In my own book, Transmutation, I took a look at the original colonialist underpinnings of the Gothic genre (vampires, for example, could more accurately be described as “outsiders” to the dominant ways of living), and examined the idea of reclamation. What if the tables were turned? What if the monsters were not those society considered odd or “outside,” but the ones who put them there?
The following authors, all from backgrounds that might be considered marginalized, took their own long looks at the monstrous. And what they came away with was brilliant, chilling, and some of the most exciting writing happening in fiction.
Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias
Gabino Iglesias’s linked short stories that take place on the borderlands between Mexico and America are full of violence, terror, and creatures (some of which slither out of the wombs of pregnant mothers in the night!). Starkly written with gorgeous line-to-line care, this book proves Gabino is a force in horror literature. The collection he edited in about a month’s time, Halldark Holidays, is further proof that if you want good politically-oriented, diverse gore and terror, Iglesias’s always going to be the one to look towards.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
There’s not a much more terrifying subject than America’s still-unreckoned-with history of racism and violence towards Black Americans. Kunzru takes this subject and makes it even more terrifying by making a vengeful spirit of a Black American blues singer who was disappeared into a chain gang. Demonic possession, and turning the tables on white appropriation of Black culture make this horror novel a deeply political and timely one.
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
This novel starts with a bang—a young woman poisons her whole wealthy family at a wedding reception. The narrator, her sister, is in a coma, and from there unravels the dark history of the family that led to this act of monstrousness.
Love & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford
A truly sweet and thoughtful YA novel based on the premise of a family of witches who are cursed in such a way that the person each member falls in love with will die. This book has haunted phone calls, magical grandparents, and does the work of making us all rethink that which we take for granted we’ve been cursed with.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The runaway-star narrator of this multi-narrator book is the ghost of a young boy who died in Parchman Farm/Mississippi State Penitentiary. The history of racism in America lives strong in these pages, and monstrousness is something we come to question as something that might also be mercy.
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
A series of short stories that take place in Enriquez’s home country of Argentina, this collection has all the tropes of the Gothic writ large in its pages—crumbling mansions, that eerie house down the block where people disappear, and the grotesque. I swear, there is a scene with fingernails and teeth that you will never be able to forget.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
A brilliant writer who swaggers through whatever genre they need, taking what creates politically vibrant and artistically vivid work, Rivers Solomon absolutely crushes this game in The Deep. Africans thrown overboard during the slave trade became underwater creatures, and one of them per generation must store all the memories they have jetisoned to survive.