Kate Maruyama, author of the recently releasedHarrowgate, explores those tension-filled moments when the ordinary gives way to something supernatural.
It’s that time of year again when my husband and I rent a
stack of horror movies or ghost movies--things that make you go eeek! While I enjoy a good slasher movie
as much as the next girl, my favorite genre of horror--movie or book--is an
ordinary world where things are going subtly, horribly wrong.
It takes our hero forever
to get it. He or she keeps trying to explain the supernatural thing/source of
evil away and that’s my favorite--and often the most tension-filled--part of
those stories. That space between disbelief and belief in the supernatural/source
of evil is where I thrive.
In my novel Harrowgate,
the hero knows something is wrong with his wife. He thinks it’s postpartum
depression or that she’s gone a bit mad. The reader knows what’s actually
going on (and, yes, the answer is supernatural) before he does, and yet he goes
on trying to explain it away. Because there must be a natural reason, right?
This genre is sometimes known as "The Fantastic," so named
by Svetan Todorov, renowned Bulgarian philosopher and literary critic. It’s
that space where our main character dwells, trying to talk herself out of the
squeaks in the attic, the oddly stacked chairs in the living room, the smell of
death in the basement, the family members or townspeople who just aren’t the same, or those ever
prevalent blackouts that occurred at the same time as a murder.
We, the reader, may be screaming, “That child’s possessed!”
“She’s dead!” or, “That house is evil!” “Don’t ask him in!” Or simply, “You
idiot, RUN!” but our heroine still has doubts. “I could just be going
nuts,” “Maybe she’s just going through a rough time,” “All this place needs is some new paint and a
nice family to live in it,” “He/she/it just needs a little love,” or “He seems nice enough.”
It’s that moment in The
Ring when Rachel can’t afford to believe a videotape could cause death, or The Omen, when Damien’s parents refuse
to believe he could be evil, or Rosemary’s Baby, where Rosemary thinks
that whole sex thing with Satan was probably just a nightmare. It’s the place
where Carriedoesn’t know about her
powers and just wants to fit in, or how strange those children are in The Others, or in The Turn of the Screw.
And it’s in this space of not knowing that I find the biggest scares and creeps and chills.
Because that suspension of the answer makes even the smallest things all the
more startling and terrifying. The “What
is doing this?” or, “How is this happening?” is what keeps me up at night,
turning pages when I really should be sleeping.
And the answer, the horrible part, is usually pretty
terrific, but even when it’s not (The
Abyss, anyone?), I love that moment just before you know.