The best dark fiction books that explore the hidden shadows of humanity

Martin Lastrapes Author Of Inside the Outside
By Martin Lastrapes

The Books I Picked & Why

Fight Club

By Chuck Palahniuk

Book cover of Fight Club

Why this book?

Chuck Palahniuk is one of the best writers of satirical dark fiction, and Fight Club is my favorite of his books. It’s most famous for its premise of a secret club of men who willingly engage in organized, bare-knuckle fistfights—but, subversively, Palahniuk’s novel uses razor-sharp wit and humor to examine themes of consumerism, anarchy, and subjugated masculinity through the strange and unlikely friendship of the book’s nameless narrator and his mysterious friend, Tyler Durden. The first rule of Fight Club: no spoilers. 

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The Virgin Suicides

By Jeffrey Eugenides

Book cover of The Virgin Suicides

Why this book?

Before Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his sophomore effort, he debuted on the literary scene with one of my very favorite books, The Virgin Suicides, a dark and haunting novel about a group of five repressed teenage sisters who each commit suicide over the course of a year. In Eugenides’ subversive coming-of-age tale, he explores themes of religion, isolation, and mental illness through the collective narrative voice of the neighborhood boys who obsessed over the sisters and want to understand why they killed themselves.

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The Things They Carried

By Tim O'Brien

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why this book?

Tim O’Brien is one of my very favorite writers, and his seminal work, The Things They Carried, is one of my all-time favorite books (dark fiction or otherwise). It’s a collection of interconnected short stories, each set in or around the Vietnam war, that explore themes of war, guilt, memory, and death. Based on O’Brien’s experiences as a soldier in the 23rd Infantry Division, The Things They Carried playfully subverts the conventions of traditional storytelling, blurring the lines between fact and fiction as O’Brien uses the names of real people and places, including a character named Tim O’Brien. 

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Machine Man

By Max Barry

Book cover of Machine Man

Why this book?

Max Barry’s satirical science-fiction novel, Machine Man, is a dark and funny mediation on contemporary society’s compulsive over-reliance on technology. The narrator, Charles Neumann, is a mechanical engineer who, while obsessively searching for his phone, loses his leg in an industrial accident. After building himself a new machine leg, Charles purposely loses his other leg, so he can replace it with another machine leg. After seeing how great his new legs work, Charles wonders if maybe he should replace more of his body parts with machine parts, begging the question: Where does humanity end and technology begin?

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God Is Dead

By Ron Currie Jr.

Book cover of God Is Dead

Why this book?

Ron Currie Jr. has written some of my very favorite books that explore big ideas through a dark, satirical lens. My favorite of Currie’s books is God Is Dead, which is a collection of interconnected stories that wonders what the world—and, more importantly, humanity—would look like if God took human form…then died. Each story looks at different characters and how they have responded to the reality of God’s death, from a group of teenagers who make a suicide pact to an epidemic of parents worshipping their children in the absence of God. Each story works together to explore larger themes of religion, violence, and the purpose of life.

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