In Julie Sarkissian’s wonderful debut novel, Dear Lucy, which hits shelves today, a young woman with a peculiar way of perceiving the world finds herself exiled from her mother’s life, living on a farm where something — Lucy can’t quite figure out what — is wrong, just beneath the surface. Or maybe there’s more than one something. Lucy sets out on a quest to make things right, as well as she can, in a story that’s equal parts sweet and strange. To celebrate the book’s release, we asked Sarkissian to tell us about her favorite creepy farm books — a surprisingly lush category! We always knew something was awry with all those creaky barns. Check out her picks after the jump, and be sure to grab a copy of her book — extra points if you do it tonight at the book’s release party at Brooklyn’s BookCourt.
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
In this classic children’s story, the animals on Zuckerman’s farm communicate in novel ways, come to each other’s rescue, and generally make the world a better place. But this is hardly an exclusively fuzzy feelings book. What makes this farm creepy? We fall in love with young Wilbur, only to learn that E.B. White has put his life on the chopping block. The animals in this book demonstrate more humanity than the humans, so the uncertainty of Wilbur’s fate feels like the impending execution of your best friend.
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
Freud would have had a field day with the Bunchens. The poor, dysfunctional farming family can’t seem to find a way to get rid of their dead and rotting mother. What makes this farm creepy? Everything. Addie Bunchen’s coffin is being built underneath her window while she’s still alive. Addie’s put in her coffin upside down so she continuously slides out of the wagon carrying her to her burial ground. And she starts to stink. This is as about as poor, white trash as poor, white trash gets, in the way that only our preeminent American literary genius could do it.
A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
With allusions to King Lear, this 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner is about the lasting wounds a controlling and land-hungry farmer inflicts on his three daughters. What makes this farm creepy? This farm is more downright evil than plain old creepy. When Ginny discovers why she keeps miscarrying, it seems that the land itself has been saturated with her father’s villainy.
Animal Farm, George Orwell
On this farm, the animals rise up against unfair treatment by Farmer Jones, heralding equality as their guiding principle. What makes this farm creepy? When the livestock revolutionaries finally take power, the once-idealistic animals turn out to be no more interested in equal rights than the farmer: a disturbing lesson in revolution, government, and the desires that lurks deep inside us all — animal style.
Mating, Norman Rush
In Norman Rush’s huge, glorious, novel about race, sex, and power, a brilliant, questionably maniacal, probably narcissistic academic, Nelson DeNoon, strives to create a perfect self-sufficient farming society in the remote wilderness of Africa, improving the lives of all its members. What makes this farm creepy? The creator of this utopia is also the only male allowed to live there.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
GMO hit novelistic farms decades ago in this dystopian sci-fi classic about an all-powerful government driven by commercial need. What makes this urban farm creepy? The crop is human embryos, whose desires are scientifically engineered in-vitro to accord with their social status in order to ensure those desires can be meet by society post-birth. But maybe that’s not so creepy after all. You can’t miss what you don’t know you don’t have.
Fiela’s Child, Dalene Matthee
On an ostrich farm in South Africa a black women named Fiela raises an orphaned white boy. Years later the boy is reclaimed by a white family alleging he is the son that went missing years ago. What makes this farm creepy? The reclaimed orphan boy falls in love with the girl who may or may not be his sister. The white “mother” chooses to continue playing house with a fake son rather than alert the boy to his real identity. Bonus creepiness: ostriches.
The Good Earth, Pearl Buck
Wang Lung and his wife — former slave O-Lan — strive to better their lives through hard work, suffering, hard work, and more suffering on their farm in pre-WWII China. What makes this farm creepy? This couple works so hard and suffers so much that on the same day that O-Lan delivers her baby, alone and without any medical attention, she is back out working the fields. Inspiring, but not in a following-in-her-footsteps way.
We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates
Life is good for the Mulvaneys; they are a respected, prosperous family of six living on a picturesque farm in upstate New York. Or at least, life was good. When their beloved daughter gets drunk at prom and is raped, the assault is swept under the rug and lives disintegrate. What makes this farm creepy? The Mulvaneys are rich, handsome, like each other and reside in a shabby-chic farmhouse. Nothing says impending doom like a family that idyllic.
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
The First Lady of Southern Gothic, O’Connor’s stories are filled with the eerie, the grotesque, and the macabre, but nothing says creepy farm like her twisted tale “Good Country People.” What makes this farm creepy? A traveling salesman talks a disabled girl into joining him in her parent’s barn, but when she rebukes his sexual advances, he absconds with her prosthetic leg. When in Rome. If Rome is an old, creepy farm.