Terrifying-Book-Number-1: The Stranger, by Albert Camus. It tells the story of Meursault, an Algerian man whom I unhesitatingly, unreservedly classify as the most utterly indifferent man I have encountered in fictional literature. In the opening scene of the book he attends his mother's funeral, but feel's no sadness whatsoever. In the story's second movement he initiates a relationship with a woman which--for Marie, the woman--is one of vibrant love, but which for him--the self-absorbed imbecile--means nothing. In the third section of the story, he kills a man during what was intended to be a relaxing holiday at the beach...again without any substantial motivation for doing so or sadness after having done so. The narrative ends with him awaiting impending execution for his crime.
Terrifying-Book-Number-2: Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. As with The Stranger, the protagonist of the story is also its narrator. Holdon Caulfield, a 16-yr-old student, is dismissed from his school for failing a score of classes for which he simply refused to study. The book primarily chronicles his somewhat decadent, quasi-amorous weekend-extravaganza in New York City after leaving Pencey prep school and prior to returning to his parents' home. His decisions grow progressively more erratic and unpredictable as the plot unfold, due in part (I think) to both his disinterest in and distrust for other people. Though a number of relevant discussions could be mined out of this text, what struck me most was the manner in which the story was framed: it consists almost entirely of internal dialogue; all of his decisions are made on the basis of what is desirable and/or expedient for himself.
Like I said, they're not horror stories; in fact, little of anything "happens" at all in these books. However, they reminded me in no gentle way of how grotesque and disfigured self-absorption is. [As an aside, it's interesting how God (in grace) allows us at points to experience vicariously the effects of sin.] I've had the experience a couple of times of being frightened by my own reflection or shadow--walking into a dark room that I didn't realize had a mirror, turning on the light, and then jumping at the sight of my reflection; or being out on a run at night and seeing a shadow "catching up to me," only to realize it's my own shadow. Usually it's a comfort recognizing "oh, it's only me." But in reading these books, that's the whole problem. It is me. Their selfishness is my own; their disproportionate introversion is mine; their lack of concern for others is mine; their consequent isolation and unhappiness...well, they at least could be mine. Meursault and Holdon, gave themselves to themselves--they disqualified themselves from both loving and being loved. And they were left as empty shells, dry husks of humanity more insane than sane.
And yet the battle against self-absorption--the struggle to live out Paul's injunction to esteem others ahead of myself--presses against me every day. I know selfishness leads to alienation, and yet I still want "what's mine"; I want to do whatever is necessary to defend my name, carving out a reputation for myself. So shall what's true shape my conduct? Will I force "let this mind be in you as it was in Christ Jesus" to the periphery, or will it be my heartbeat as it was Paul's? Note to soul: don't kick against the goads.