Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and one of my favorite traditions is watching horror movies. I wasn’t a huge fan before my best friend Morgan (co-writer extraordinaire) dragged me into one. I immediately became obsessed and begged her every other day to watch another with me. If you were wondering, As Above So Below, inspired by Dante’s Inferno, is my favorite.
Today, we’re backtracking a few weeks to explore a genre I’ve never read: psychological horror. Poison by Galt Niederhoffer is the first, and probably last, time I will ever enter this territory.
Poison follows Cass, an ex-lawyer, idyllic housewife, and mother of three. The tenuous reconstruction of her life after the death of her first husband has led her to Ryan, a charismatic adventurer and architect.
The novel starts smoothly, cataloguing the daily habits of a family steeped in middle class stability and frivolity. Cass and Ryan have a surprisingly perfect marriage. Ryan is endlessly devoted to their children, and Cass grapples with the demon of her first husband’s death as well as one could expect.
In subsequent gradations of conflict, the household becomes more uneasy. Cass worries she is expendable. Ryan becomes more distant. Then, Cass begins to suspect him of an affair and her husband accuses her of mental instability.
One fight later, Ryan’s hand is around her throat, making death threats against her and her children. He cooks them pancakes the next day. He tries to push her into incoming traffic, later laughing it off as a joke.
Then, Ryan poisons her. Will anyone believe her? Can she prove it? Ryan constructs this careful image of her as mentally unstable, threatening to take away her kids and pinning the blame for his abuse on her.
Poison is disturbing. Its heavy accounts of emotional abuse turned malignant, will be distressing to any readers, particularly women. Its account of courtroom injustice and portrayal of the “hysterical female’ in need of psychological internment will make even the emotionally hardy squeamish.
I hate this book. That is not to say that it is not well-written, insightful, and evocative. Poison is all of those things. Frankly, this book is too frightening for me too put myself through again. A good horror is re-watchable. A good thriller will make you never want to see a thriller again.
If you are able to withstand that kind of heart-pounding emotional action, then Poison is for you. If its gaslighting and physical abuse intrigue rather than frighten you, this book is enjoyable. I am naturally a careful person about what I consume (aka gore instantly makes me curl into the fetal position) so Poison was a lot to handle for me. Thriller fans, though, I know will enjoy it.