The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
This novel is scary in an existential sense that you may find hard to shake. A scientist is left alone in the Antarctic after a disease begins wiping all of her colleagues out, and her attempts at communication with civilization are met with silence. She sets off across the ice to try to find anyone left alive, but begins to suspect that she may be the last person on Earth.
Her desolate journey is intercut with chapters set in the City, a bustling metropolis where people go after they die. There’s a catch, though: you only stay in the City as long as people on Earth remember you. And since the mysterious plague seems to be wiping humanity out, the City is beginning to empty, too. It’s also starting to shrink. As the dead explore the new boundaries of their City, they try to figure out what’s going on back on Earth, if there’s anyway they can control it, and, most urgently, what will happen as more and more of them are forgotten.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
This is a ghost story, but it’s also literary fiction, and it’s also a reckoning of our country’s history of slavery and exploitation of African and Indigenous Americans… so it’s not getting shelved next to Stephen King and Clive Barker.
After escaping Sweet Home, an enslaved woman named Sethe tries to build a new life for herself and her family in Ohio. But when a posse shows up at her door, ready to drag her back to the South, Sethe makes a terrible choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Years later, Sethe is still trying to make things work in Ohio when a woman shows up who may or may not be a ghost. The story turns into a gothic romance but at all points it is careful to keep its horror based in history, not any supernatural elements. As main character Sethe grapples with her past and tries to create a future for her family, we realize that as many problems as the ghost causes, she’s nothing compared to the terror wrought by the men around her.