distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Guest Post: A Book That Scares Amy Garvey

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Amy Garvey, author of COLD KISS

I love to be scared, and always have. Even as a kid, nothing was better than the possibility of a ghost, or a big old abandoned house with a rotting porch, choked in ivy. Weird, unexplained, otherworldly, I wanted it. I loved the BOO, and the unknown thing in the dark, and the icy fingers walking up my spine.

But one of the books that scared me the most, on a gut level, doesn’t even look like a horror story on the surface: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby.

It’s 1960s Manhattan, and a young couple is moving into a bigger apartment now that Guy, an actor, is making some money. For Rosemary, a Midwestern Catholic girl, it’s the next step in her dream—space and income enough for her and Guy to start a family. Despite her sheltered upbringing, Rosemary has always longed for the wonders of the wider world, and with Guy she’s found the perfect combination of exotic big city chic and homey domesticity.

It’s a fantastic novel, and a beautiful piece of writing, something I would teach if I taught writing. Levin sets up everything so precisely, so believably, with just the right language and detail; nothing more or less than the reader needs to know is offered. It’s a mid-century fairy tale with a sweetly vulnerable but stubborn heroine, and Levin makes it completely satisfying to read about Rosemary’s plans for her new home, a gorgeous prewar apartment with spacious rooms and big windows and lots of period charm. She’s going to cook and put down shelf paper and go back to her pottery class, and most of all make that baby.

Nothing scary there, right?

The apartment building is the first clue that something might be a little off. The Bramford is old, and its history is a little more macabre than most. Rosemary’s not really concerned, even if her older friend Hutch, a writer of boys’ adventure stories, likes to regale her with tales of past gruesome goings on.

And then a girl Rosemary meets in the Patented Scary Basement commits suicide, jumping out of a window and splattering herself all over the sidewalk below.

Now we’re going somewhere, even if we’re not sure where that is exactly—and we’re trying really hard to ignore the giant clue right in the title.

It’s easy to do, too. Aside from the spooky laundry room and the poor dead girl, vampires aren’t lurking in the elevator, and there are no ghosts dragging chains across the floors. Rosemary and Guy meet their neighbors, and Rosemary buys furniture and hangs wallpaper, and then, of course, she gets pregnant.

And that’s when her life goes pear-shaped, literally and figuratively.

Just like the baby taking shape inside her, the horror here is all internal, hidden, masked in the everyday details of life. No one expects evil in their linen closet, or their doctor’s office, or their aging, eccentric neighbors.

That’s what makes it so much more terrifying than, say, a random werewolf attack. Everything and everyone Rosemary trusts is suspect, and even she can’t quite believe what she thinks is happening. Who would? If no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one ever expects their life to change with a few bites of chocolate mousse.

And that’s what’s so very horrifying. Not only has Rosemary’s ordinary life been invaded on every level, her body is the ultimate betrayal, and inside her is something kicking and squirming to be born. Or maybe unleashed is a better word.

I read this book in one huge gulp, so entirely freaked out I couldn’t look away. You can stake vampires. You can banish ghosts. You can run from the hockey-masked psycho. But you can’t escape your own body, unless you’re willing to give it up entirely. When you don’t know who to trust, or who’s turned against you, or what’s in your food or your apartment or even listening through the walls? That’s primal level horror.

And the ending? I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say I haven’t read anything as chilling in a really long time. I’ve never forgotten it, either.

That’s the mark of a great book, and a fantastic scare. And I still won’t take dessert from my neighbors…

Amy Garvey is an author and a reader, a wife and a mom, a procrastinator, a cake fanatic, a tea addict, a former editor, and one of the most obsessed fans of Supernatural out there (and there are a lot of us). Her debut novel, Cold Kiss, was released by HarperTeen in September 2011.

Visit Amy at amygarveywrites.blogspot.com.

Follow @amygarvey on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

24 responses to “Guest Post: A Book That Scares Amy Garvey”

  1. My dad was always trying to scare me on Halloween. He would buy masks and then tried to jump out and spook me. He still tries to scare me. haha But its fun!

  2. I really want to read Rosemary’s Baby, I’ve seen the movie but it was so long ago that I don’t remember all the details.

  3. Eeek your summary alone is freaking me out! I don’t know if I can read this one. Stories with creepy children, devil spawn, etc scare the crap out of me!

  4. Oh, God! I totally forgot about this book. I read it when I was 16. We were on vacation, and my dad got sick and was in the hospital. A nice nurse let us live in her house, and this book was on a shelf. Kinda creepy, huh? You are right. It is the single most terrifying book I have EVER read. Brilliant…terrifying…all in one. Sheesh! The hair on my arms is standing up as I write. I’m not sure I’m happy about remembering it! (yes I am).

  5. Anything demonic freaks me the heck out…..oddly enough, Supernatural is my favorite show.

  6. Oh man. I have never read this, but I know what it’s about… I remember the first time someone told me that ending. I did the silent gape OMFG COOL thing. Might be less cool reading. =D

  7. One, why did I think Rosemary’s Baby was by Stephen King? and 2, I just saw amy the other day, she said she was kinda a horror junkie, like me. 😀

  8. I picked up a copy of this book at a Friends of the Library book sale when I was seven- my mom took one look at it, paled, and put it back on the table. When I asked when I’d be allowed to read it, she said “When you’re twenty with your own apartment, or when I’m no longer scared of it, whichever comes first. Be prepared to wait thirteen years.”


  9. Here’s a bit from the afterword Ira Levin added to the 2003 reprint of ROSEMARY’S BABY:

    “[A] fetus could be an effective horror if the reader knew it was growing into something malignly different from the baby expected. Nine whole months of anticipation, with the horror inside the heroine!”

    I have always been struck by how fantastic and deliciously creepy this idea is!

  10. The things that stayed with me the most about this book is that I have the same name as this baby. And the movie just made it worse! My mother swears she didn’t name me after that character, but I’m not sure…

  11. Haven’t read “Rosemary’s Baby” but saw the film and that freaked me OUT! I think some of the best horror is based in reality and leaves a bit of subtlety and growing unease whether we’re watching it or reading it to make people freak out! I think that’s also why these “Paranormal Activity” movies are all the rage because they bring you into a realistic world and then just turn it upside down. Definitely a mark of great prose to be able to ease a reader into their own unease. I’ll have to read this. Don’t know why it’s not already on my TBR list.

  12. This is one of those books that you always mean to read but it somehow get’s passed up (at least for me…). One of these days I’ll actually read it and I’m sure I’ll kick myself for waiting for so long. Cold Kiss is definitely high on my TBR pile thought!

  13. Now I want to go read Rosemary’s Baby. It sounds like my kind of book! I never saw the movie either, so I might have to watch that too (but after reading the book). Thanks for sharing!

  14. Rosemary’s Baby so terrified me it almost kept me from becoming a mother–and then when it did, I was terrified by it all over again because I could imagine myself as her! My babies aren’t demons, though, at least, not usually.

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