Share 7 Captivating Novels That Take You Inside Creepy Cults & Off-the-Grid Communes

7 Captivating Novels That Take You Inside Creepy Cults & Off-the-Grid Communes

Alice Martin is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Rutgers University, where she obsesses over nineteenth-century women writers, the history of the publishing industry, and writing practices. She’s also a regular contributor to Shelf Awareness and a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, and Sixfold among other publications. You can find her talking about books, food, and basketball (in that order) on Twitter @AliceJeanMartin.

Between true-crime podcasts, Wild, Wild Country episodes on Netflix, and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, people have caught cult fever. What fascinates us so much about cults and communes? Maybe it’s the same things that draw people to cults in the first place: a desire to belong, a longing for a moral utopia to be successful, or a will to understand some deeper secret about the world around us. These seven riveting novels explore our long-standing love affair with off-the-grid communities and their charismatic leaders.


The Ash Family
by Molly Dektar

In THE ASH FAMILY, after years of living in rural North Carolina, 19-year-old Berie just wants to be part of something bigger than herself. Compelled by a mysterious man she meets at a bus stop, Berie is introduced to the Ash Family Farm, where a community lives off the grid, guided by high moral values. But as members of Berie’s new family begin to disappear, she must ask herself what she is willing to sacrifice to remain in this place of idealism and belonging.

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The Ash Family
Molly Dektar

When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.

At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.

Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.

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The Girls
by Emma Cline

Emma Cline’s breakout debut, THE GIRLS, seductively reimagines Northern California at the end of the 1960s, just before the crime that would redefine the era. One sultry afternoon, lonely Evie Boyd meets the charming, enigmatic Suzanne. Soon, Suzanne takes her to the ranch that houses members of a Charles Manson cult. As Evie becomes enthralled by their intoxicating lifestyle and acceptance, and her adoration of Suzanne transforms into obsession, she hurtles ever closer to a future of unthinkable violence.

Read the full review of THE GIRLS.

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The Girls
Emma Cline

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The Family Upstairs
by Lisa Jewell

In THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, Lisa Jewell spins a dark, twisted, atmospheric tale of mystery and suspense. Libby Jones has waited her whole life to find out the truth of her biological parents, but when she is notified that she has inherited their mansion in London, all is not what it seems. Soon, Libby must grapple with the mysterious families that share the home and the part they all played in the unexplained deaths that left her an orphan.

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The Family Upstairs
Lisa Jewell

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The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta

Before it was a critically acclaimed television show, THE LEFTOVERS was a startling and inventive novel by Tom Perrotta. Years after the Sudden Departure—when many citizens of small-town Mapleton inexplicably vanished—the remaining inhabitants are still reeling. While the town’s new mayor wants to speed up the healing process, a local cult called the Guilty Remnant is dedicated to making sure everyone remembers what happened, forever. As tensions build, key members of the community struggle to stitch their personal lives backs together, despite the growing divides.

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The Leftovers
Tom Perrotta

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MENTIONED IN:

7 Captivating Novels That Take You Inside Creepy Cults & Off-the-Grid Communes

By Alice Martin | November 21, 2019

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Arcadia
by Lauren Groff

One day in the 1970s, a group of idealistic misfits band together to start a peaceful, utopian commune on the grounds of an abandoned mansion. Bit, who was a baby when his parents joined the commune, grows up within its boundaries and falls in love with the leader’s troubled daughter. Eventually, as Bit outgrows the confines of his longtime home, he must face the world beyond Arcadia. Poignant and thoughtful, ARCADIA displays renowned author Lauren Groff’s writing at its dazzling best.

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Arcadia
Lauren Groff

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By Alice Martin | November 21, 2019

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We Went to the Woods
by Caite Dolan-Leach

WE WENT TO THE WOODS follows five friends as they escape the grid and start a romantic, self-sustaining compound they call the Homestead. Mack, who is seduced into the group by her infatuation with each of its four other members, is determined to write the story of their efforts, but the project becomes increasingly dangerous and unstable as their toxic relationships with each other heighten. Fascinating and eerie, Caite Dolan-Leach’s novel spins a tale of sexual longing and the intensities of human connection.

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We Went to the Woods
Caite Dolan-Leach

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MENTIONED IN:

7 Captivating Novels That Take You Inside Creepy Cults & Off-the-Grid Communes

By Alice Martin | November 21, 2019

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In the Country of the Blind
by Edward Hoagland

After 60 years of publishing, yielding over twenty novels, Edward Hoagland offers IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND, a meditation on aging and learning to trust again, as his capstone novel. Press, an ex-stockbroker, finds himself alone in his Vermont cabin after his wife leaves him. What’s worse: he’s going blind. Surrounded by a hippy commune, nomadic vagabonds, and down-and-out farmers, Press must learn to trust others in order to find a new appreciation for the world he believed had left him behind.

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In the Country of the Blind
Edward Hoagland

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MENTIONED IN:

7 Captivating Novels That Take You Inside Creepy Cults & Off-the-Grid Communes

By Alice Martin | November 21, 2019

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