"Goblin" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Earthling Publications
Written by Josh Malerman
2017, 375 pages, Fiction
Released on October 31st, 2017
Welcome to Goblin, an average American small town where nothing much happens. Forget that, this is a Josh Malerman production, so expect the unexpected where anything can happen. Josh is in the early stages of a stellar career and from what he has published already, it's blindingly obvious he can turn his hand to anything. He is a unique voice in the world of weird fiction. A new Malerman is fast becoming a calendar event for me and I'm already hungry for the next novel, Burying Susan, which is out in 2018, and early rumours say is superb.
Goblin is the name of the town where these six interconnected novellas are set and although they are standalone reads, there is some clever cross-pollination between the tales. As you would expect with Malerman, each story is as quirkily unique as the town which threads them together. At the time of writing, Goblin is only available directly from Tony Jones as a limited edition hardback, which is almost sold out. At some point in the future it should hopefully be republished in a more mainstream format, including e-book. It would be a shame if this charmingly odd work remains unavailable to the public at large, but I'll be very surprised if it doesn't have a wider release next year sometime.
As the subheading is "A novel in six novellas", I would advise reading them in the order they are presented, especially as it opens with a superb prologue "Welcome", which is so good it almost had me cheating and skipping to the promised epilogue "Make Yourself at Home", which wraps up the cliff-hanging opening stanza. I managed to resist though, and lapped up the six stories, all set on the same rainy Goblin night.
Goblin is a weird little town, strange things are accepted as normal and the supernatural is hinted at but goes unexplained. It's that kind of place. Across the stories there is a haunted forest, very weird birdlife, possibly a witch and very, very strange policemen. The town itself is a great character, as haunting and vivid as TV shows Twin Peaks, Eerie Indiana or the brilliant novel HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, all of which have towns of great presence. The local inhabitants are very proud of their heritage and many of the stories cleverly fill in the backstory of the town, taking it back to the time of the original settlers. If you read any of these novellas as standalone offerings, the history stuff might come across as padding and you would miss out on the drip-effect the author uses to reveal more about the town.
You could argue much of Malerman's published work thus far could be set in or around Goblin. Who's to say his beautiful House at the Bottom of the Lake novella about a perfectly preserved underwater house is not set on the outskirts of Goblin? Or that the two feuding horror filmmakers Ghastle and Yule aren't Goblin residents? And what about "The House of the Head", a terrific short story about a little girl who believes her doll's house to be haunted? Elvie is most definitely a Goblin resident! Perhaps the military hospital in second novel Mad Black Wheel could be lurking in the backstreets of Goblin also? Malerman's world is a weird one, so Goblin is a perfect fit.
"A Man in Slices" concerns Richard, who has had the same best friend for years, Charles. The problem is everyone has always thought Charles is a bit strange, or worse. As Richard has never had many friends, he has always defended his oldest mate, and when he hears that Charles finally has a girlfriend, is over the moon. But soon Richard begins to realise he should have listened to the warning bells of years ago. Very entertaining dark fun which will have you looking at your best friend with sidelong glances.
"Kamp" is a highly enjoyable tale centring upon an overweight guy obsessed with seeing a ghost, or more specifically, obsessed that a ghost might scare him to death should he see one. He believes several of his family have seen ghosts and that his time will come soon, but he will be ready when it does. He rigs his rented apartment with cameras, alarms, knocks down walls and waits for the moment to arrive. Along the way, his elderly and meddling landlord, who has an interest in Goblin history, drops in for a drink and the night takes a different turn.
With a truly terrific ending with probably the most cross referencing between the other stories, "Happy Birthday Hunter!" is a beauty. Hunter is the richest man in Goblin and this is the evening of his big 60th birthday bash, with much of the town is invited. However, Hunter craves the one thing he really cannot have for a present, which takes him and his friends into the haunted forest and a world of pain.
Perhaps my personal favorite, "Presto", finds a young boy who is obsessed with magic, whose all-time favourite magician goes by the name 'Roman Emperor'. Mike is excited to find out his favourite magician is visiting Goblin for a show, but where will Mike get the $8 for a ticket and is Roman Emperor all that he seems? He's not a normal magician, that's for sure.
If you want to freaky a freaky little story where getting a job promotion really comes back to bite you then look no further than "A Mix-Up at the Zoo". Dirk switches jobs from refuge collector to working in a zoo; he is soon promoted from garbage collector to tour guide. He's a pretty simple guy, but both the kids on the tours and the animals really like him. But at the same time he is unsettled in a way he just cannot explain and feels a weird connection to the animals. Soon he picks up an unnecessary weekend job working in a local slaughterhouse and the two jobs just do not mix well for poor old Dirk.
Finally, we have the terrific "The Hedges", in which we finally get to meet the infamous Goblin police, who are mentioned in various other places. In honour of his dead wife, Wayne designed a huge maze which has become a local tourist attraction. There is supposed to be a prize lurking in the centre of the maze, which is impossible to find, until a little girl knocks on Wayne's door stating she cracked the maze and is now going to report poor old Wayne to the police. Pretty crazy stuff.
There's lots of great stuff to recommend in this off-beat collection from an author who can do no wrong with his recent output. Fingers crossed Goblin reappears in 2018, it really deserves to.