Some books provide us with a beautiful escape from reality. They offer us the opportunity to forget our troubles and lose ourselves in romance or magic with each turn of the page. Some stories wrap us in a safe cocoon of silk and fuzzy feelings and rainbows, protecting us from the negativity of the outside world while we indulge or inner child or romantic.
Transgressive fiction, on the other hand, tends to grab readers by the throat and drag them into a story much worse than their own reality. Transgressive books are the ones who make you think, “Wow, this is fucked.” They are not ‘safe spaces’ and many of them don’t end on a happy note. Transgressive fiction is often disturbing and graphic and frequently deals with protagonists with addiction or mental illness.
If you’re looking for escapist fiction or stories of optimism and hope, this is not the list for you. But if you have a soft spot for the freaks and rebels of society, here are five of my favorite transgressive novels.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I find it impossible to discuss transgressive fiction and not mention Chuck Palahniuk. While Fight Club is probably his best-known story thanks to the killer film adaptation, most of the books I’ve read by Palahniuk fit perfectly under the transgressive fiction umbrella. If you’ve already read Fight Club, be sure to check out Haunted and Damned next!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kersey
A gritty look at how America dealt with the mentally ill, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a must-read for anyone intrigued by stories about the human condition. The ending hits right in the feels, and while this isn’t the most “PC” book on this list, it’s still 100% worth reading.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The first piece of dystopian literature I read and enjoyed, Fahrenheit 451 takes us into a world where literature is on the brink of extinction. While a lot of people *think* they know the plot to this book and thus avoid it, I adore it. Ray Bradbury is truly the master of the metaphor.
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
This book is an appalling beauty. A story about two serial killers who cross paths, this book features everything from guts and gore to necrophilia. It took me a few tries to make it through the entire thing, but the story itself is exquisite and the writing is flawless. If you’ve got a strong stomach and aren’t disturbed by much, this book is perfect for you.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
When asked to vote for a book-of-the-month to read together, the first thing my book club selected was Lolita. While the prose is poetic and beautiful, the content itself is haunting. To this day, I can’t decide if I hate or pity Humbert.
There are a ton of other great transgressive stories (1984, Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, American Psycho, We Need to Talk About Kevin, the list goes on and on). However, these five will always have a special place on my shelf. Have you read any of them? Do you have a favorite transgressive novel? Let me know!