A Bumpy Ride: The Top 9 Road Trip Nightmares in Literature

Photo by Bruno Bergher on Unsplash

Who doesn’t love a good road trip? It’s an iconic literary theme from On the Road to Travels with Charlie to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There’s a sense of adventure, of a unique expression of the American spirit. Occasionally, though, that literary adventure can leave us with a bit more than we bargained for. There are a number of great suspense/thriller novels featuring excursions that most definitely did not go as our intrepid heroes planned.  Whether on the run from preternatural terrors or more human dangers, here are a few of our favorite edge-of-your-seat road trip nightmares.

  • The cover of the book Shattered


    Shattered generally gets lost in the shuffle of Dean Koontz’s incredibly prolific and bestselling bibliography. This slice of road-trip horror is a quick read that steadily ratchets up the suspense. It centers on Alex and his son, Colin, who are driving cross-country to a new home in California. Unfortunately, they find themselves square in the sights of a twisted fellow traveler.

  • The cover of the book Heart-Shaped Box

    Heart-Shaped Box

    This debut novel from bestselling author Joe Hill centers on aging rock star Judas Coyne whose fascination with macabre memorabilia leads him to purchase a ghost on the internet. When he receives a heart-shaped box with a suit said to contain the ghost, things quickly spiral out of control – Jude is forced to run from a malevolent spirit hell-bent on his death.

  • The cover of the book Mr. Shivers

    Mr. Shivers

    The debut novel from Robert Jackson Bennett falls somewhere on a spectrum that includes Stephen King and John Steinbeck. Set during the Great Depression, Mr. Shivers centers on a man named Marcus Connelly as he makes his way through the rail yards and byways of Dustbowl America, seeking the eponymous and potentially supernatural fiend who murdered his child.

  • The cover of the book The Stand

    The Stand

    Stephen King’s classic piece of post-apocalyptic fiction is a long-time fan favorite. It features a collection of some of King’s best protagonists making their way across a wasted and increasingly desolate America in the hopes of finding some form of safety and peace. Unfortunately, the roads they travel are beset by all kinds of terrifying obstacles – supernatural and otherwise.

  • The cover of the book The Road

    The Road

    The Road, a bleak post-apocalyptic sojourn, earned Cormac McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2007. The novel is an unrelenting, haunting, and emotionally shattering tale of an unnamed father attempting to find a safe haven for his son amid the desolation and dangers of a post-apocalyptic America. It is among McCarthy’s finest novel, and that’s no mean feat.

  • The cover of the book American Gods

    American Gods

    Neil Gaiman’s bestselling concoction of mythology, fantasy, and Americana is a surreal and tense road-trip along the backroads and forgotten highways of an America populated with supernatural con-man, old gods, and magic. It centers on a ex-con named Shadowmoon who takes a job as a driver and aid to a mysterious and eccentric man known simply as Mr. Wednesday.

  • The cover of the book The Best of Richard Matheson

    The Best of Richard Matheson

    This short story from the legendary Richard Matheson is a taut, razor-sharp exercise in sustained suspense. The story follows a middle aged salesman named Mann making his way across the desert during a business trip. He runs afoul with a hulking truck and its unseen driver. It’s a tense game of cat and mouse, and served as the basis for classic 1971 made-for-TV film of the same name from a then-unkown director you may have heard of: Steven Spielberg.

  • The cover of the book Bird Box

    Bird Box

    Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut is a near pitch perfect thriller. It centers on a woman named Malorie and her two children attempting to survive in post-apocalyptic near-future. Creatures lurk in the shadows – creatures so horrifying that the mere sight of them drives a person to deadly violence. Malorie has made the decision to flee to what may be one the last safe havens, but doing so requires a treacherous journey along a winding river with only a blindfold. Luckily, her children’s incredible hearing might keep them safe from the creatures.

  • The cover of the book The Passage

    The Passage

    A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy)

    It’s hard to pin The Passage to a genre. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel that’s one part speculative fiction, one part fantasy, and one part horror. It contains shadowy government conspiracies and vampires, as well as a remarkable girl with unexpected abilities. The novel largely centers on a girl named Amy who eventually joins a colony of survivors as they make their way across the treacherous landscape, filled with dangers – human and not.