There’s no shortage of real-life horror stories for women right now. In fact, I nearly included on this list Ronan Farrow’s harrowing New Yorker exposé on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault allegations; many of the first person accounts Farrow includes read like miniature horror tales. But alas, even when it is horrific, fiction can provide something of an escape. Here’s six of the best horror stories by women.
Like Helen Oyeyemi and Angela Carter, Machado takes horror and fairy tale tropes and turns them on their head, using them to explore the real-life terrors that men often inflict upon women. Nowhere is this more present than “The Husband Stitch,” the first story in Machado’s astonishing collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which takes the idea of male entitlement to its frightening apex.
Machado’s story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is a tour de force of feminist horror, and while “Horror Story” isn’t in the collection, it is emblematic of what makes her work so refreshing: the queering of psychological horror, making the political into something personal into something terrifying.
Mary Gaitskill is another writer who excels at feminist, psychological horror, though for her there’s much more emphasis on the psychological than horror. What makes her stories truly remarkable is her ability to temper everything—no matter how horrific—with love and/or affection. “The Other Place” is more about the father-son relationship than it is about the violent terror.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
Two for one! Maybe you’ve heard of these horror stories by women? I had to put these classics together; I’ve taught them in pretty much every Literature class I’ve had. One reason I like teaching them together is getting to hear my students’ reactions to how “unlikable” the female protagonists are in both stories. But they’re also master classes in ratcheting up tension. Rather than relying on purely external forces—though, of course, that’s definitely present too—O’Conner and Oates use their characters’ flaws to drive the stories.
It’s too difficult to choose just one of Carrol’s short graphic stories. These deftly drawn tales ooze with so much dread, and when you read them together, you’ll find yourself transported into Carrol’s beautiful, nightmarish mind. If you like what you read, check out Carrol’s collection, Through the Woods.
I added this as a “bonus” story since you can only read it for free if you’re a Wall Street Journal subscriber. Or you can pick up a copy of Link’s collection, Get in Trouble, in which this story appears. The less said about the story the better—it’s air of mystery is what propels the reader along—but this is one that will certainly linger long after you read the final paragraph.
What are your favorite horror stories by women? Get even more spooks with all of our horror recs.