Review: “Goblin,” Josh Malerman

Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Malerman’s Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas is an interconnected set of six stories–as well as a connected prologue and epilogue–all of which take place in and around the town of Goblin. I really enjoyed the variety of tales!

“Prologue: Welcome”: Tom is a delivery driver, and he’s been given an unusual late-night delivery to Goblin. It’s a big ol’ box, and it comes with remarkably specific directions: don’t open the package. Don’t stop driving. Ignore anything unusual you might hear. And if it can’t be delivered within the specified half-hour window, destroy it. Naturally, it becomes difficult for Tom to adhere to these requirements.

“A Man In Slices”: Richard has been Charles’s only friend since they met in school. Now that they’re adults, once again Charles needs Richard’s help. Only the kind of help he needs may be more than Richard wants to part with! We see Richard and Charles’s interactions in slices as Richard contemplates the relationship they’ve had, and it’s fascinating. The two characters are unusual, with a particularly bizarre friendship. This is a great story!

“Kamp”: Walter Kamp is the Goblin historian, and he seems to be having a difficult time lately. He’s so convinced that something’s going to haunt him that he’s wrecked his entire apartment making sure he can see to the walls in every direction. He’s set up traps. Even his bed is made of plexiglass so he can be sure nothing’s hiding beneath it! Lucky for him, his landlady seems to have a sense for how to distract him from his paranoia. This story as well has remarkably interesting characters. Walter is not your average paranoid loon, and his landlady is remarkably astute about human nature. This story also gives us a rundown of some of the legendry surrounding the town’s origins.

“Happy Birthday, Hunter!”: Neal Nash, called Hunter by his friends (because he’s an extremely avid hunter of game) is throwing the ultimate birthday bash, and it seems as though most of the town is in attendance. But all Hunter cares about is bagging the one forbidden game creature in Goblin: the Great Owls. I certainly didn’t see where this one was going, and it’s excellent! Hunter and his friends and wife are again a really interesting set of people. Malerman has a knack for relatable, unusual characters.

“Presto”: Young Pete is a huge fan of magic shows, and more than anything he wants to see the magician who’s something of a pariah among other magicians: Roman Emperor. When he finds out Roman is going to do a show in his town, Pete goes to great lengths to get there. But Pete’s going to find out that Roman’s magic isn’t quite what he’s expecting. Both Roman and his odd assistant Maggie are, once again, great characters. I can’t really talk much about them without giving too much away, but they interact in such unusual ways.

“A Mix-Up At the Zoo”: This is a particularly bizarre tale of a somewhat odd man, Dirk, who works two jobs: one giving tours at the zoo, and on the weekends he works at the slaughterhouse. The animals seem particularly calm when he’s around, and in particular he wishes that the gorilla, Eula, could be free. This story drags on a little, particularly with some bizarre dream sequences, and gripped me the least of the stories in here. But it’s still a good story, and the end is positively chilling.

“The Hedges”: Wayne Sherman is responsible for creating a stunning hedge maze that’s supposed to be next to impossible to solve–and hides a prize for anyone who might solve it. One day a little girl solves his puzzle, and before she leaves, she tells him she’s going to go to the police and tell them exactly what she found. Wayne starts packing up to leave, but memories of his dead wife Molly haunt him and slow him down. And when Margot, the little girl, goes to the police, she finds that the very bizarre police of Goblin are maybe not people she should have voluntarily chosen to deal with. Once again, it’s the characters that make this story so good.

“Epilogue: Make Yourself At Home”: Tom is trying to deliver his box, but the recipient won’t answer the door. He doesn’t want to have to deal with the box himself, so he finds the front door unlocked and goes on in. Before the end of the night, he’ll be very glad he doesn’t actually live in Goblin. The only thing that I couldn’t quite get is how it is that the contents of the box came to Goblin from somewhere else. They seem like they should have been there to begin with.

The characters are definitely the best part of this book–not a one of them is entirely what I expected. The town’s history is fascinating and relates to a handful of the stories. There’s a ton of atmosphere, and plenty of mysterious goings-on. I absolutely recommend this collection to horror fans!

Content note: animal harm/death; animals eating animals. Mild horror-story blood and gore. Some mild sexual content. A little bit of body horror.

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