Book Club Nominees

6 Ligotti-Inspired Novels

by @cdubs, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for August’s “Ligottian, but not Ligotti” category

This category represents work that is in line with Ligotti’s own brand of literary, pessimistic weird horror, that is not written by Ligotti himself. So, think: modern writers of the weird who would count Ligotti as a key influence to their own work. 

Cover of Mr Suicide by Nicole Cushing. Cover shows an image of a young boy staring directly at us with a very intense stare. Surrounding the boy's head is a superimposed image of a gaping wide mouth. We can only see the teeth.

Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing

Winner of the 2015 Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel

Like everyone else in the world, you’ve wanted to do things people say you shouldn’t do.How many times in your life have you wanted to slap someone? Really, literally strike them? You can’t even begin to count the times. Hundreds. Thousands. You’re not exaggerating. You’re not engaging in… whatchamacallit? Hyperbole? You’re not engaging in hyperbole.Maybe the impulse flashed through your brain for only a moment, like lightning, when someone tried to skip ahead of you in line at the cafeteria. Hell, at more than one point in your life you’ve wanted to kill someone; really, literally kill someone. That’s not just an expression. Not hyperbole. Then it was gone and replaced by the civilized thought: You can’t do that. Not out in public. But you’ve had the thought…


Nicole Cushing is criminally underread and her fiction is so electric, dark, and transgressive that it can’t help but affect its readers. Mr. Suicide is an excellent pessimist novel that takes Ligotti’s ideas into a more conversational and vicious realm, while remaining darkly funny. 

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Cover of A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe by J.R. Cover shows a colorful abstract drawing of what might be people, who appear to be suspended in space at odd angles.

A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe by J.R. c

 J.R. Hamantaschen’s third collection of short stories delivers more inimitable dark fiction. These are eleven tales of macabre horror, filled with estrangement, honor, wonder, terror, delusion, pity, desperation and perseverance.


Self-publishing, like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, is the subject of a thousand invalidating knocks—but in spite of subpar quality, low aims, and poor editing (and just like the cryptids in question) self-publishing is something in which I continuously want to believe. The idea at its core is to abandon the gatekeepers and embrace DIY—a place for weirdo, experimental works to be released without publisher intervention. It could be the coolest fucking thing in books, but in practice, it amounts to little more than a joke. Self-publishing doesn’t typically bring us interesting, original visions—more often than not, it’s a dumping ground for the deluded. But, as with anything, there are glimmers of hope, and one author I’ve read recently is doing exactly what I want so badly to see. J.R. Hamantaschen is an exciting talent, and his collection A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe makes good on the promise inherent in self-publishing—delivering a product that is weird, unique, and utterly captivating. 

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Cover of The Dissolution of Small Worlds by Kurt Fawver. Cover shows an abstract drawing of a body, or perhaps multiple bodies, whose upper halves are in flames.

The Dissolution of Small Worlds by Kurt Fawver

Eerie and unnerving events are welcome reads for horror and weird fiction aficionados, and Kurt Fawver’s new collection delivers: a group of work-study students grow obsessed with a particular, otherworldly room at the university library; a monster’s mother wants her to assume a traditional life; and a mysterious calling haunts an elderly man at a nursing home; strange Halloween traditions draw a writer to a remote town. Contains the Shirley Jackson Award-winning story “The Convexity of Our Youth.”


Fawver is one of the best fiction writers working today and his work exemplifies the dark thought experiments of Ligotti, combined with his own brand of satire. The stories in this collection are uniformly excellent and feature brilliant concepts rendered with top notch prose. 

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Cover of The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett. Cover shows a black and white sketch of a ventriloquist's dummy. The dummy's body appears to be disintegrating. In the background is a drawing of a dummy with parts labelled.

The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett

Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism, named the Best Fiction Book of 2016 by Rue Morgue Magazine, heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Schulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring. A lucid dreamer is haunted by an impossible house. A dummy reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps. A stuttering librarian holds the key to a mill town’s unspeakable secrets. A commuter’s worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign. An aspiring ventriloquist spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And a presence speaks through them all.


This book changed my life. It was Ligottian, yes—but showed that weird horror didn’t need to ape Ligotti’s own obsessions, but instead serve as a vehicle to introduce the author’s own. While there is some crossover here, Padgett brings with him reality bending ideas and a keen eye for unsettlement that makes this collection unforgettable. 

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Cover of To Rouse Leviathan by Matt Cardin. Cover drawing shows a naked woman standing in a row boat. A man in a suit is rowing. Waves are crashing around them. A mosaic of giant fish, done in red tones, covers the sky.

To Rouse Leviathan by Matt Cardin 

Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and other masters of cosmic horror, Cardin’s fiction explores the shadowy side of religious and spiritual experience. His tales draw upon the author’s thorough knowledge of Judeo-Christian and other religious traditions to expose the existential terror we all feel in living in a cosmos that may be actively hostile to our species. In tales long and short (including a new novella co-written with Mark McLaughlin), Cardin rings a succession of changes on those fateful words from the Book of Job: “Let those sorcerers who place a curse on days curse that day, those who are skilled to rouse Leviathan.”


Cardin is a brilliant writer with a deep knowledge of religion. This is an interesting counterpoint to religious horror as we know it, as it couldn’t be further away from The Exorcist. The stories here are literary, weird, and uncanny. 

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Cover of In That Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files. Cover shows a skeleton with butterfly wings and a crown. The entire image is tinted red.

In that Endlessness, Our End by Gemma Files

Heard the one about the Airbnb that eats your dreams or the iron-crowned king who preys on his own bloodline from the air, still smoldering centuries after being burnt alive? How about the cloudy antique bottle you can wish your excess rage inside, or that crooked alley down which something waits to replace your disappointing child with a far more pleasant facsimile? We all know the truth, especially in times like these-in an anxiety-ridden, sleepless world such as ours, it’s only ever our very worst dreams that come true. Here streets empty out and people pull themselves apart like amoebas, breeding murderous doppelgangers from their own flesh; houses haunt, ideas possess and a cold and alien moon stares down, whispering that it’s time to spawn. New myths rise and ancient evils descend. From the seemingly mundane terrors of a city just like yours to all the most dark and distant places of a truly terrible universe, nothing is as it seems…not even that dimly-recalled cinematic memory you’ve been chasing all these years, the one you think might be just something you stumbled upon while flipping through channels after midnight. The one that still disturbs you enough to raise a cold sweat all over your body, whenever you try to will its details clear.


As I know it, the default narrator for the weird horror story has become a stock character. If one were to write a modern post-Ligotti weird tale right now, they might easily fall into a familiar lead archetype—nervous (as Poe would say: “TRUE!—nervous”), academic, cold, and exceedingly alienated. This is a narrative voice that genre auteurs such as Jon Padgett, Thomas Ligotti, and Matt Cardin have formed into something nearing a cliche in their (yes, excellent) work. But Files eschews the modern Weird blueprint and works from a more naturalistic and modern palate. Her characters speak like humans, not academics on the edge of breakdown. They are products of contemporary life, not detachments meant to highlight their own detachment. In this, Files’ work feels conversant with the present and very much alive.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett. Join HOWL Society on Monday, August 16, 2021 to begin discussion!

Carson Winter is an author, punker, and raw nerve. His stories are mainlines to his mental state, where his heart is transplanted from sleeve to ink in concise, conversational prose. His work has been featured on The No Sleep Podcast as well as in Vastarien: A Literary Journal. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. 

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