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Literature is one of the freer forms of entertainment for an audience to enjoy. Regardless of one's interests, one can find a book he or she finds engaging. Some authors really appeal to the gore lover, the thrill-seeker, and the horror junky, such as Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, and Stephen King. From these writers and more, here are the ten most disturbing books ever written.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Set in 1980s Manhattan during the Wall Street boom, American Psycho takes us through the days in the life of Patrick Bateman; wall street elite by day and murderer by night.
The novel maintains a high level of ambiguity through mistaken identity and contradictions that question the credibility of the narrator, which gives the reader an even greater feeling of unease.
After killing one of his colleagues, Bateman converts his apartment into a torture den. The more murders he commits, the more disturbing they become, including rape, mutilation, cannibalism, and necrophilia.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
This novel follows an adolescent runaway from Tennessee, with a taste for violence, in the middle of the 19th century. The brutal killings portrayed in this novel certainly make it one of the most disturbing books ever written.
Known to the reader only as “the kid,” he continues to travel through eastern Texas by his lonesome on his mule. After a violent encounter with a bartender—which establishes the kid as a skilled fighter—he joins a group of poorly armed United States Army irregulars on a mission to claim Mexican land for the United States.
After being arrested in Mexico, the kid is subsequently set free, when a fellow prisoner tells the authorities he’d be a good fit for their newly formed group of scalpers.
The kid joins the gang and they go on a killing spree throughout the borderlands committing some incredibly gruesome murders. They kill anyone in their path, including peaceful Indian farmers, Mexican and American soldiers, and children.
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
This is a crime novel by author Jack Ketchum, who is a master at making readers feel uncomfortable.
This novel, which is based on a true story, is about two teenage girls, Ruth and Susan. They have been sent to live with their aunt and are forced to endure escalating abuse—one of the girls, especially. The aunt, Ruth, has three sons of her own, is an alcoholic, and also happens to be suffering from severe mental illness.
Ruth begins to verbally abuse Meg, and after an incident in which Meg hits one of Ruth’s sons after he inappropriately touches her, Ruth decides to beat Susan. After the beating, Meg tries to go to the police and Ruth decides to lock her in their bomb shelter. Ruth allows her sons to strip Meg, and she’s left in the shelter, bound and gagged all night. Meg is starved, and Ruth allows the other children to torture her, which they think is acceptable because they have an adult's permission.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
Told in a series of dreamlike vignettes, this book includes tales of child murder, auto-erotic asphyxiation, copious drug use, cop killing and orgies. What makes this one of the most disturbing books? Many of the stories are drawn from Burroughs's own life. This is such a disturbing book, it was banned in many sections of the country when it was released in 1959.
Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.
A story about drug addiction, Requiem for a Dream, the basis for the movie of the same name, tells the story of four connected New Yorkers whose lives are falling apart: Sara, Harry, Marion, and Tyrone.
All four characters have dreams they want to achieve. Harry and Marion want to open their own business, while their friend Tyrone wants to escape his life in the ghetto. The three friends buy an excessive amount of heroin and plan to get rich selling it. No real surprises here—the three entrepreneurs become addicted to their own product.
Sara, Harry’s mother, has dreams of being on television. When Sara receives a call from a casting company, about being on a reality show, she goes to a doctor and is prescribed diet pills to lose weight, which she eventually becomes addicted to. Sara develops amphetamine psychosis and eventually ends up in a mental institution where she undergoes electroconvulsive therapy.
What makes this book truly disturbing is the genuineness of it; these are situations that any person can find themselves in. All it takes is one wrong in life and one can find themselves in jail, or have an arm amputated after it gets infected from too many needle injections.
It by Stephen King
Before becoming a hit movie, It was a very lengthy novel by acclaimed author Stephen King. While any short story of his could have made this list, the use of children in this novel earns it a spot on this list of most disturbing books.
Told through narratives alternating between two time periods, this novel includes it all: killer clowns, shape-shifting aliens, and child sex. If you thought the movie was terrifying, read this book.
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
A series of short stories wrapped in a flowing narrative, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk is one terrifying read. The main story focuses on a group of 17 individuals who decide to participate in a secret writers' retreat. The group meets the organizer's founder, Mr. Whittier, and he tells them to wait for a bus to pick them up the next morning.
Whittier leads the group to an abandoned theater where he traps them, telling them they have three months to write a magnum opus, and they can't leave until they are done. Whittier does promise to leave them in livable conditions.
The group then decides to sabotage their own situation, in hopes of it becoming a better story. From there, it's a classic tale of self-mutilation and cannibalism.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
A finalist for the National Book Award, and considered by many to be one of the best ghost stories of the 20th century, The Haunting of Hill House, relies on Jackson's ability to terrorize readers, using complex relationships between events, architecture, and characters' psyches to really tug at the reader's emotions. This book is so terrifying it made it onto Stephen King's list of the best horror novels ever written, which certainly makes it strong enough to earn a spot on the list of the most disturbing books.
This story focuses on four characters, one of which is on a mission to prove the existence of the supernatural in Hill House. As the story plays out, all four characters begin experiencing strange happenings in the house, from seeing ghosts, hearing noises, and seeing strange writings appear on the wall.
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
One word that's often used to describe this novel by Jerzy Kosinski is "controversial." This story tells the story of World War II seen by a boy, considered to be a Gypsy or a Jew, wandering across Eastern Europe. The wandering boy witnesses the lowest levels of human life, occurrences of incest, bestiality, and rape, on top of the usual violence of war.
Some of the controversy surrounding this book comes from Kosinski himself, who at first claimed this book was autobiographical, only for it to be revealed years later that the story was entirely fictional. Nearly 30 years after the book's release, it was revealed that a large portion of the book was plagiarized from popular books written in Polish.
Despite these controversies, The Painted Bird is considered to be one of the best, most terrifying Holocaust stories ever written. Any story that can be considered the best ever written on the most horrifying time the world has ever seen deserves a spot on this list.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
The story of a 12-year-old girl, Regan, being possessed by the devil certainly gets a spot on the list of most disturbing books. An elderly Jesuit Priest, Merrin, finds a small statue of a demon while on an archaeological dig in Iraq, while the girl gets overtaken by a demon. When Regan's mother takes her to a series of doctors and psychiatrists, they can't diagnose a problem and Regan's mother turns to religion for the answer. When examined by the first priest, Karras, he thinks an exorcist is needed and goes to the bishop for permission to perform the exorcism. The bishop says Karras is not qualified to perform an exorcism and brings in Merrin.
This story is beyond terrifying and belongs atop the Mount Rushmore of horror novels, making it one of the most disturbing books ever written.