Ivy Pochoda’s 6 favorite books that explore the dark side of human nature

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Thriller writer Ivy Pochoda is the award-winning author of “Wonder Valley” and “These Women.” “Sing Her Down,” her latest, follows two female ex-cons who carve a bloody trail from Arizona to Los Angeles, and is now available in paperback.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

McCarthy’s polarizing masterpiece is the seminal text if you want to dig into the poetry of violence, or if you’re tired of the whitewashed heroics of traditional Westerns. Sure, it’s overdone (and perhaps overripe) in places — but that’s what it took to transform bloodlust into indelible art. Buy it here

Dirty Weekend by Helen Zahavi (1991)

Buckle up, because Helen Zahavi is about to take you on a wild ride. Bella, who’s had enough of being victimized by men, kills ’em all over the course of one weekend. More provocative and meaningful than Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, Zahavi’s mannered work of emotional terror will shock you with its daring but also inspire you with its power. Buy it here

Angels by Denis Johnson (1983)

Johnson’s terrifying first (and perhaps best) novel follows two desperate outsiders who become lovers before they are devoured by their worst nightmares. Johnson conveys the savagery of mental hospitals and death row in brutally poetic language, demonstrating over and over again that within the darkness, there remains a spark. Buy it here

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Mecca by Susan Straight (2022)

No one writes about the underserved, unheard, and unexamined like Susan Straight. If you think you know the people of California, I suggest Mecca, which maps cultures and communities hovering just outside conventional SoCal fiction. I was shocked at my own ignorance about the place I call home and the people who inhabit it. Buy it here

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams (1960)

Williams’ anti-­Western takes American triumphalism to task. In a frigid mountain pass during a buffalo massacre gone wrong, four men descend into a self-­created hell. It’s a battle between one man’s Emersonian ideals and the bloodthirsty hunter he chooses to help realize them. If you’re hoping for heroes, you’re in the wrong place. Buy it here

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (2018)

The opening scene, set on a transport bus to a women’s prison, stopped me dead. How did Kushner capture the nuance, variety, and voices of so many prisoners in one place? How did she conjure so many competing desperations within one shared desperation? How did she do this while also allowing for moments of comic clarity? Buy it here.

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