Yes, indeed. I read a book that gave me a nightmare! The last time a book gave me sleepy-time creeps was The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith (which I reviewed here), because I just don’t generally read suspense/thriller/horror. Anyway, that being said, occasionally I do read something scary. Culprit of 2013 is Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (and I know him!).
I’m going to admit to having nightmares frequently. Usually they involve a pale man in black stabbing me in the face or chest with a knife. But the nightmare I had after reading this book was not a stabbing nightmare. It was framed like an episode of NCIS (because Mark Harmon) and involved the mutilated corpses of children and young people. I was next in line to be killed. Then I woke up and wanted to cry/scream/not exist until the bad things stopped.
That being said, the book was intense. Almost every chapter involves a murder or physical assault, and virtually none of the murderers (except for Alex and a woman named Heidrun) ever face any retribution. This one kid kills like a gazillion people and no one ever questions him (exaggeration). It’s terrifying. And wonderful. And awful and horrifying, and amazing. Trigger warnings on murder, child abuse and sexual assault, fyi. The book handles everything so well and so real, though. It’s worth it.
Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is set in a teeny tiny German village in some slightly indistinguishable time significantly after WWII (it could be any time between the 50s and the 80s) and before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The village, Hemmersmoor, is the best and worst of small town life. New people are unwelcome, and most residents’ families are generations deep. Slightly offset from the village, the wealthy von Kamphoff family live in a Big House built on suspicion and snobbery. This kind of a village can go one of two ways: hilarious rom-com or sketchy horror mystery.
(I live in a small town, so I’m allowed to say stuff like that without it being an insult or a cliché. Huntingdon would make a great rom-com. Or horror film. We have a liberal arts college and a high school football team.)
I felt super sucked into the universe of Hemmersmoor, and I ached with the kids to get out of the town. Each chapter presented some new manifestation of evil that left me shivering. The kids in this book
innocently take in the local myths and lore, then enact suffering on others with little apparent malice. Did ______ have real motive to kill ______? No, but it happened. And the village allows it. Reading this book is like trying to tell the difference between thin spun sugar and a spider web. At first glance, you can’t, and even when you think you’ve figured it out, you’re not quite sure until you take a bite…
I’m not into horror, but the strength of this book wrapped me in and involved me so much that it shook me up. And it did it well. The violence and the evil were real. They weren’t kitschy or cliché. So if you love horror or if you don’t but you’re willing to give it a try, I’d recommend this book. It’s so evil, but it’s so beautiful.