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8 Mindf*ck Books That Leave You Wondering WTF Just Happened

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K.W. Colyard

Contributor

Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

Ever read a book with a twist ending that ripped the proverbial rug out from under you? If so, congratulations! You’ve found a mindfuck book. Whether you love these stories or want to experience your first WTF-inducing plot twist, I’ve got something for you on the list of mindfuck books below.

Just because a book has a jaw-dropping plot twist doesn’t mean it’s automatically a mindfuck. Mysteries and thrillers usually depend on shocking reveals, but no one’s having an existential crisis over Lord Peter Wimsey. To be a mindfuck, a book must have a twist that makes you question everything you’ve just read, even down to the basic premise of the book. Some authors take a different tack entirely and keep their readers thoroughly confused right up to the very end. Others open with scenes so outlandish and edgy that you’re cast out of your element on the very first page.

Now, the book that blows one reader’s mind may be totally predictable to the next. In the same way that horror movies don’t have to scare everyone to be part of the genre, a novel or story doesn’t have to shock everyone in order to be a mindfuck. If you found these titles to be predictable, be sure to share some of your personal mindfuck books with your fellow readers!

a photo of a person holding a book over their face

Mindfuck Books That Leave You Wondering WTF Just Happened

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany book cover

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren is unlike anything you’ve ever read. I know you’ve probably heard that promise a lot, but trust me when I tell you it’s 100% true in this instance. This surreal work of weird fiction centers on a small town cut off from the rest of the world by an unknown force. As a consequence of the town’s isolation, time and space are all wibbly wobbly within its borders. Throw in an amnesiac poet of a protagonist and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s as wonderful as it is confounding.

"All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein book cover

“All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein

The basis for the 2014 sci-fi film Predestination — which stars a pre-Succession Sarah Snook, bee-tee-dubs — Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 short story throws everything you know about the potential paradoxes of time travel out the window. “All You Zombies—” centers on a bartender who hears the tale of a lifetime when his male patron, who writes under the pseudonym of “the Unmarried Mother,” begins telling him his story. Wherever you think this one is going, you’re wrong.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang book cover

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

When the title character in Han Kang’s 2007 novel announces to her family that she’s decided to give up eating meat, she’s met with intense pushback on all sides. Vegetarianism isn’t common in South Korea, and her family struggles to understand her motives. Their reactions push her further from them, and, by the time they realize her choice goes far beyond food, it’s too late to stop what’s coming.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami book cover

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

I read the English translation of The Strange Library shortly after its release. It wasn’t until I started putting this list together that I realized it was meant to be a children’s novel. This surreal story centers on a young boy whose trip to the library goes horribly awry. Throw in a guy in a creepy librarian, a man in a sheep costume, and three gigantic volumes on the Ottoman Empire’s taxation system, and you’ve got yourself a weird little mindfuck of a book.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata book cover

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Natuski and Yuu aren’t like other children. She’s best friends with a stuffed hedgehog — actually a member of the Space Police force — and he’s an alien from another planet. Naturally, the only thing for them to do is get hitched someday. What begins as an innocent pledge between a pair of young cousins later turns dark and tragic, as Natuski, her husband, and Yuu attempt a society made by and for people like them.

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk book cover

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

It’s difficult to talk about some mindfuck books without giving the whole game away. This one is no exception.

Shannon’s modeling career came to an abrupt end when someone blew her lower jaw off with a shotgun. Estranged from her parents, she creates a tiny found family with Brandy, a charismatic trans woman who inspires her to manufacture an entirely new identity for herself. But trust me: that’s about as wholesome as Invisible Monsters gets.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid book cover

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

In this Shirley Jackson Award finalist, things go horribly wrong when the unnamed narrator accompanies her boyfriend, Jake, to visit his parents. They haven’t been dating long, and she’s already weighing the pros and cons of a breakup. Shortly after arriving at Jake’s parents’ farm, however, the narrator begins experiencing unsettling psychological symptoms. Meanwhile, Jake’s own actions become less predictable by the moment. This one is a truly wild ride.

The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi book cover

The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

This is one of those books that I want everyone to read, but am always hesitant to recommend. The people in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s manga shorts are fucked up. Extremely fucked up. They’re preoccupied with sex, abortion, and procreation. There’s rape. There’s murder. There’s a pregnant rat and a tank full of pet piranhas. If you’re looking for a manga-specific mindfuck book, this is it.


Want more truly twisted books? Check out these disturbing must-read books and this list of the most fucked up books Book Riot contributors have ever read.