Book Club Nominees

6 Striking Survival Stories

by @The_Left_Reverend, curator of HOWLS book club nominees for May’s “Just Remember, We’re All in This Alone” category

Loneliness is a common experience; as many as 80% of those under 18 years of age and 40% of adults over 65 years of age report being lonely at least sometimes… Each of us is capable of feeling lonely, and loneliness is an equal opportunity tenant for good reason. We have posited that loneliness is the social equivalent of physical pain, hunger, and thirst; the pain of social disconnection and the hunger and thirst for social connection motivate the maintenance and formation of social connections necessary for the survival of our genes… Left untended, loneliness has serious consequences for cognition, emotion, behavior, and health.

From: Hawkley, Louise C., and John T. Cacioppo. “Loneliness matters: A theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms.” Annals of behavioral medicine 40, no. 2 (2010): 218-227.

After a year of a global pandemic, many of us have spent time alone or in isolation. Surviving in isolation is akin to surviving without food or water, situations that can all instill in us anxiety and dread. This list offers stories of survival and isolation in a variety of settings (with only one set during a blizzard, though it is a common theme throughout the genre). 

Cover of Widow's Point by Richard and Billy Chizmar. Cover shows a sea crashing against rocks just below a cliff with a lighthouse on it.

Widow’s Point by Richard & Billy Chizmar 

This is a bad place. I don’t think people are meant to live here. Longtime residents of Harper’s Cove believe that something is wrong with the Widow’s Point Lighthouse. Some say it’s cursed. Others claim it’s haunted…The lighthouse was finally shuttered tight in 1988 and a security fence was erected around the property. No one has been inside since. Until tonight. Thomas Livingston is the acclaimed author of thirteen books about the supernatural and this evening he will enter the Widow’s Point Lighthouse, searching for material for his next bestseller. He will be locked inside for the weekend with no way of contacting the outside world. And although no human has stepped foot inside the structure in nearly three decades, Livingston will not be alone.

What could be spookier than being locked, totally alone, in a haunted lighthouse for a weekend? I was intrigued by the setting of this story as well as the father/son writing team. The combination of ghost story and isolation tale gave me Woman in Black vibes. 

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Cover of Forgotten Places by Johanna Craven. Cover shows a blurred figure walking through a spare and creepy woods.

Forgotten Places by Johanna Craven

Van Diemen’s Land, Australia. 1833. English settler Grace Ashwell flees an abusive lover in Hobart Town, with six-year-old Violet in tow… She and Violet find themselves lost in a beautiful but deadly land where rain thunders down mountains, the earth drops away without warning and night brings impenetrable darkness. Deep in the wilderness, they find a crude hut inhabited by Alexander Dalton, an escaped convict long presumed dead. Hiding from civilisation in an attempt to forget his horrifying past, Alexander struggles to let Grace into his world. When Violet disappears, Grace’s fragile trust in Alexander is put to the test…Based around the true story of the Macquarie Harbour bolters; one of the most horrifying events from Colonial Australia’s bloody history.

Can fiction ever be more horrifying than fact? Based on a true story, this book grabbed my attention with a historical setting in Colonial Australia. This is not a history that I am familiar with, so I would be interested in using this story as a jumping off point to learn more about the true stories of this time and place. 

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Cover of The Last One by Alexandra Olivia. Cover shows the silhouette of a person standing on a hillside at sunrise, with the sun behind them on the horizon.

The Last One by Alexandra Olivia

She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far. It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens…Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game…Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes….But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

One of two books on the list that I have read. I loved the idea of a Survivor style TV show gone horribly wrong. In a state of isolation the MC must decide what is real and what has been constructed to deceive her. 

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Cover of Gerald's Game by Stephen King. Cover shows a set of handcuffs on top of red sheets. Blood is spattered across the sheets and handcuffs.

Gerald’s Game by Stephen King

‘And now the voice which spoke belonged to no one but herself. Oh my God, it said. Oh my God, I am all alone out here. I am all alone.’ Once again, Jessie Burlingame has been talked into submitting to her husband Gerald’s kinky sex games…After Jessie is handcuffed to the bedposts—and Gerald crosses a line with his wife—the day ends with deadly consequences. Now Jessie is utterly trapped in an isolated lakeside house that has become her prison—and comes face-to-face with her deepest, darkest fears and memories. Her only company is that of the various voices filling her mind…as well as the shadows of nightfall that may conceal an imagined or very real threat right there with her…

I know what you’re thinking, “Left Rev, King has some real isolation classics. Why not The Shining? Why not Misery?” Yes, these are both classics and wonderful reads, but how many of us have already read them? And more importantly, both have blizzards!!! I committed to only one blizzard on the list and this isn’t it. But it does present the nightmare of sex and relationship, which should be safe, empowering, and affirming, devolving into dis-ease, discomfort, and isolation. Terrifying. 

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Cover of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Cover is starkly plain: black with a white title and gold text.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other…Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

The other book on the list that I have read. The Road is not only terrifying, but also beautiful, filled with striking imagery and excellent prose. The love between father and son cuts through the pain of isolation, but adds a new dread, as survival is also about protecting the one you love. 

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Cover of Maynard's House by Herman Raucher. Cover shows a small cabin in a blizzard. The picture is out of focus, like the snow is obscuring everything.

Maynard’s House by Herman Raucher

Austin Fletcher, a disturbed young Vietnam War vet, is willed a small house deep in the woods of northern Maine. He comes to own it by the generosity of a brother-in-arms―a fellow soldier and confidante, Maynard Whittier, killed in action by a wayward mortar shell. The rugged landscape of Maine is an intoxicating blend of claustrophobic interiors and endless frozen wastelands. Little by little, the mysterious force in the house asserts itself until Austin isn’t exactly sure what is in his mind and what is real. And just when our hero’s had enough and is ready to quit the place, a blizzard arrives and the real haunting begins.

Our only blizzard! The setting of this story takes a backseat to the emotional history of Fletcher which (I hope) will show the isolation felt by those scarred by the horrors of war. Isolation and loneliness are based in a lack of perceived social connection. Sometimes the horror of isolation has less to do with the setting and more to do with the loneliness that exists in our own minds. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Maynard’s House by Herman Raucher. Join HOWL Society on May 24, 2021 to begin discussion!

Gennie/@The_Left_Reverend is a pastor from Virginia.

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