Top 10 Most Disturbing American Novels
#10 - JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN [1939] Dalton Trumbo
JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN [1939] Dalton Trumbo Image

"Inside me I'm screaming, nobody pays any attention. If I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs, I could run away. If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself. I could yell for help, but nobody would help me."

#09 - RED DRAGON [1981] Thomas Harris
RED DRAGON [1981] Thomas Harris Image

"He's not keeping the organs as souvenirs, Doctor. He's eating them."

#08 - A FEAST OF SNAKES [1976] Harry Crews
A FEAST OF SNAKES [1976] Harry Crews Image

"He did not know what love was. And he did not know what good it was. But he knew he carried with him, a scabrous spot of rot, of contagion, for which there was no cure. Rage would not cure it. Indulgence made it worse, flamed it, made it grow like cancer. And it had ruined his life."

#07 - THE PAINTED BIRD [1965] Jerzy Kosinski
THE PAINTED BIRD [1965] Jerzy Kosinski Image

"At times, feeling the wind in my brow, I went numb with horror. In my imagination I saw armies of ants and cockroaches calling to one another and scurrying toward my head, to some place under the top of my skull, where they would build new nests. There they would proliferate and eat out my thoughts, one after another, until I would become as empty as the shell of a pumpkin from which all the fruit had been scraped out."

#06 - GEEK LOVE [1989] Katherine Dunn
GEEK LOVE [1989] Katherine Dunn Image

"My mother had been liberally dosed with cocaine, amphetamines, and arsenic during her ovulation and throughout her pregnancy with me. It was a disappointment when I emerged with such commonplace deformities. My albinism is the regular pink-eyed variety and my hump, though pronounced, is not remarkable in size or shape as humps go . . . Still, my parents noted that I had a strong voice and decided I might be an appropriate shill and talker for the business. A bald albino hunchback seemed the right enticement toward the esoteric talents of the rest of the family. The dwarfism, which was very apparent by my third birthday, came as a pleasant surprise to the patient pair and increased my value. From the beginning I slept in the built-in cupboard beneath the sink in the family living van, and had a collection of exotic sunglasses to shield my sensitive eyes."

#05 - HAUNTED [2005] Chuck Palahniuk
HAUNTED [2005] Chuck Palahniuk Image

"Yes, terrible things happen, but sometimes those terrible things—they save you."


#04 - NAKED LUNCH [1959] William S. Burroughs
NAKED LUNCH [1959] William S. Burroughs Image

"Squatting on old bones and excrement and rusty iron, in a white blaze of heat, a panorama of naked idiots stretches to the horizon. Complete silence—their speech centers are destroyed—except for the crackle of sparks and the popping of singed flesh as they apply electrodes up and down the spine. White smoke of burning flesh hangs in the motionless air. A group of children have tied an idiot to a post with barbed wire and built a fire between his legs and stand watching with bestial curiosity as the flames lick his thighs. His flesh jerks in the fire with insect agony."

#03 - THE GIRL NEXT DOOR [1989] Jack Ketchum
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR [1989] Jack Ketchum Image

"This crime made me mad. And often my best writing is often done out of anger . . . It's a little bit of a bully pulpit to be able to write an entertaining, or at least a gripping story about that kind of thing, and move the reader through that labyrinth of nastiness. And to contrast that with what's good and possible in life." —Jack Ketchum

#02 - AMERICAN PSYCHO [1991] Bret Easton Ellis
AMERICAN PSYCHO [1991] Bret Easton Ellis Image

"All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. I still, though, hold on to one single bleak truth: no one is safe, nothing is redeemed."

#01 - LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN [1964] Hubert Selby, Jr.
LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN [1964] Hubert Selby, Jr. Image

"I don't think of the last pages of Last Exit as being strange; I don't know what the hell they are talking about. Never having gone to school, I didn't know you weren't supposed to do that. I had read people like Celine and Genet and I didn't know you weren't supposed to do that; they did it. There was nothing new here—Homer did it—nothing new as far as I can tell." —Hubert Selby, Jr.

Top 10 List Courtesy of Art Spackle

User Comments - Add a Comment
Stephen King - 2009-01-08 00:33:59

The axe scene in Misery is pretty goddamn disturbing and deserves mention here . . .




Laice - 2009-01-09 21:40:25

Good sir, Stephen King is a very good writer, but Misery was not nearly as disturbing as any of the books I have read on this list, no offense but that is some pretty tame stuff that Stephen King writes about. For instance "The Girl Next Door" is about a young girl who is beaten, raped, and violated in ways that I had never thought possible, by her aunt, cousins and neighborhood friends. King has nothing on Ketchum.

Carny - 2009-02-02 04:54:39

While a short story, "Drive-In Date" by Joe R. Lansdale should be on this list if the criteria is disturbing...

am - 2009-05-15 00:04:45

Lord of the Flies. Talking pig heads, killing a little kid, a monster in the forest, this book is pretty disturbing.

mike - 2009-07-21 12:36:30

I've heard Selby's The Room is a lot more disturbing than Last Exit to Brooklyn. but I wouldn't know I've never read either.

kek - 2009-09-08 00:34:58

to the above poster, Lord of the Flies is not an American novel

bluesborn - 2010-02-22 00:23:56

I'd like to add a couple of books. Celine's "Death on the Installment Plan" and "The Brave" by Gregory McDonald.

Armand - 2010-03-15 03:16:47


Mike - 2010-04-08 20:13:07

I wouldn't add anything by Stephen King, his Novels are not truly disturbing. I don't think "Red Dragon" is any more disturbing then hundreds of other novels of that sort. I would add "The Turner Diaries" instead. I've read most the books on this list and other then "Red Dragon" I think it's pretty good.

Ugh - 2010-05-20 20:45:46

Haunted is probably my favourite by Palahniuk, but god damn if some parts didn't actually turn my stomach, which is something no other book has done. I haven't read most of these, but I can say honestly Haunted disturbed me more than American Psycho, especially knowing that most of the short stories in Haunted are true stories. On a side note, just saw Palahniuk on tour for Tell-All. Great speaker. Talked about how he was taught to write dangerously. Very well represented in his book.

Jono - 2010-07-29 13:20:40

'Child of God' is pretty disturbing.

Benny Profane - 2010-09-05 19:17:34

Even though it was written by a russian Lolita must be on the list it is a very american novel

Cthulhu's Chew Toy - 2013-08-05 05:32:07

I agree, with above poster, "child of god " has some pretty disturbing content. Actually, most of Cormack Mcarthy's books have unbelievably dark and twisted passages sprinkled throughout them that put a lot of these books to shame (and yes, I've read all the listed books except "the girl next door"), it's just that the disturbing bits are usually tucked, cleverly, between comparably tame content, which seems to add to the impact.

Amelia Earhart - 2015-09-06 06:52:09

Some of these leave a dirty smudge on your memory, but in so doing, can change your life.