Josh Malerman “Unbury Carol” Review

Posted: April 12, 2018 in Reviews, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Length: 384 Pages

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Release Date: April 10, 2018

Like a lot of people, the first time I read Malerman’s work was when I stumbled across his debut novel Bird Box. Bird Box is a unique story that follows a woman named Malorie as she attempts to find a safe place to take her two children, five years after the arrival of the mysterious creatures who can drive people to madness with just one glimpse. Reading Bird Box, I was drawn in immediately by his unique take on the post-apocalyptic story and the world building that went into the story. After I finished that, I was sold on Malerman’s talent and knew I was going to be a longtime fan. I’ve read everything Malerman has released since Bird Box, and while each book has its own style, the one constant is Malerman’s storytelling ability and imagination. When I first about his latest release, Unbury Carol, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what sort of adventure Malerman conjured up this time around.

Carol Evers has a secret that she has only shared with three people – her best friend John Bowie, her husband Dwight and her ex, the famed outlaw James Moxie. Carol has died many times throughout her life, although her deaths are a bit different from the one everyone else experiences. She doesn’t actually die, but instead falls into a long-lasting coma that makes it appear as if she is dead to those who are unaware of her condition. It’s easy to think she has actually died – her heartbeat is faint, her pulse becomes barely detectable and she shows no sign of breathing – which poses a very grave threat to Carol’s life. Carol guards her secret because she fears it will frighten people and cause them to leave her. However, this proves to be a deadly mistake because her husband, who many thought only married her for her money, plans to use her condition to steal her fortune and bury her alive so that he can live a life of luxury. Although Carol and Moxie have not seen or spoken to one another in 20 years, the news of her death causes him to saddle up again and take to the Trail for the first time in a decade. After the untimely death of Carol’s friend John, Moxie is the only one who knows Carol’s not dead and the only one who will be able to save her. The question is, will he reach her in time? Because there are other people who have an interest in seeing Carol buried alive and they will do whatever it takes to keep Moxie from ruining their plans.

Unbury Carol into a single genre, I would label it a Weird Western, which is a genre I haven’t been too big on in recent years. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but for some reason I could never get hooked on one, at least in terms of novels. That wasn’t the case with Unbury Carol, which immediately hooked me with rich world-building, memorable characters and an engaging plot.

I loved the way Malerman crafted Carol’s affliction, which appears to draw inspiration from the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. However, Malerman is able to make it his own by not only making Carol’s comas more frightening, but by also giving reader’s a glimpse of it through her eyes. The doctors that Carol saw early in life were never able to give her condition a scientific name as it seems to be an affliction unique to Carol. While it was frightening at first, Carol crafts an identity around her condition in an attempt to normalize it and take some of the fear from it. She started calling it “Howltown”, which is more of a name for the state she occupies in one of her comas and less the condition itself. Despite the fact that it’s a desolate place that only she can visit, she thinks of it as a town. There is no light in Howltown and it got its name from the howling wind that never stops and is the only noticeable stimulus that cuts through the absolute darkness. She always knows when the comas are coming as it is preceded by a falling sensation and distorted vision. She sometimes sees ripples and it’s like her world is slowly bleeding into Howltown.

This is one of the most horrifying aspects of Unbury Carol. Don’t get me wrong, Unbury Carol has many moments that are laced with evil and brutality, but imagine the horror that Carol is faced with every time she has an attack. Her own body acts like a prison and she is unable to move or communicate with anyone in the real world while she is in Howltown. Sometimes she can make out bits and pieces of what is happening around her, but she’s powerless to do anything about it. Imagine facing the betrayal of someone who was supposed to love you and that you trusted as they plot your death and taunt you at every step of the way. It’s absolutely bone-chilling.

Another strength of Unbury Carol is the characters. Malerman brings the towns that litter the Trail to life by crafting interesting characters. Listing all of them would be near impossible, but I decided to highlight a few. Carol’s friend John Bowie, who has already passed away by the opening of the novel, leaves a lasting impression even in death. He was a good man who often made himself the life of the party due to his penchant for magic tricks. However his importance comes into play due to his relationship with Carol. He was her closest friend, and the intimate nature of their relationship is shown through the fact that he was the only person outside of her family and significant others who ever learned of her secret. Rather than get freaked out like many others would have, Bowie listens to her with care and respect, wanting to understand his friends affliction. He is the only one outside of her mother Hattie to try to understand Carol’s illness and help her develop ways to cope with it. Everyone else wanted to exploit her or simply ran from the challenges they thought it posed.

I also loved following Moxie’s part of the story. James Moxie’s notoriety comes from the event largely known as “The Trick in Abberstown”, where Moxie won a duel against a man named Daniel Prouds without ever drawing his gun. While the event happened many years ago, it is still talked about by anyone who comes into contact with Moxie. While Moxie used that reputation to carve out a life on the Trail, he’s no longer the same man he once was. When Moxie drops everything to race to Harrows to try to save Carol, he had been off the Trail for nine years. As I loved the decision to have these events take place in the twilight of his career because it makes him a more interesting character. Moxie is no longer full of the bravado you would expect from his younger days, but instead battles the demons of his past and feelings of self-doubt.

There are supernatural elements throughout Unbury Carol, but the most frightening moments of the novel come from the interactions between the human characters and the evil they are capable of. The character responsible for causing the most mayhem is easily the feared outlaw Smoke. Smoke is one of the most terrifying antagonists I have come across in recent memory. None of it has to do with supernatural powers, but rather his propensity for evil and the atrocities he is able to carry out without any remorse. Every scene he is in is unpredictable because he is just as likely to let people go as he is to kill them. He has a unique and brutal calling card and it’s the reason he is the most feared person on the Trail. He is tasked with hunting Moxie and their relationship is interesting because Moxie’s legend grew in the wake of Smoke’s own personal tragedy. Smoke is fascinated by Moxie’s legend, but loathes him and dreams about what will happen if he finally catches up to him on the Trail. Then there is Rot, another terrifying villain that plays a large part in the novel. I won’t go into too much detail about his story, but his scenes are among the creepiest in the novel.

Malerman’s world building is excellent and while I already talked a bit about Howltown, the other big set piece of Unbury Carol is the Trail. The Trail is a passage that connects all of the neighboring towns and has a rich history and legends of its own. It is a hard and unforgiving place that many of the residents avoid traveling if they can help it. Men who feel lost or aimless often can’t resist the pull of the Trail. Sure, there is darkness and evil lurking along the Trail, but what Malerman has done is craft a beautiful setting full of mystery and intrigue and it is that mystique that lures people like Moxie and Smoke to it. It’s a chance for them to make names for themselves and leave a lasting legacy.

Structurally, Malerman jumps around between various points of view and isn’t afraid to use fluid timelines. While the story does have a linear narrative, he occasionally uses flashbacks at various points of the story. This approach may not work for every reader, but I enjoyed how he worked in minor plot threads throughout the story before circling back and wrapping them up later. The best example of this would be the various mentions of “The Trick in Abberstown”. I love how the story is told in anecdotes sprinkled throughout the novel and from various perspectives, but that the narrative still maintains a cohesive structure.

While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this is on my shortlist for my favorite novel of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Josh Malerman’s Official Website

Random House Books’ Official Website

Purchase Unbury Carol: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is an internationally bestselling, Bram Stoker Award–nominated American author and one of two singer/songwriters for the rock band The High Strung. His debut novel, Bird Box, was published in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2014 to much critical acclaim. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, with his best friend/soulmate Allison Laakko and their pets Frankie, Valo, Dewey, Marty, and the fish.

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Fab review! I really want to read this one myself 🙂

  2. […] Horror Bookshelf reviewed Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman – another new blogger found with great reviews! This is a super detailed review for a unique […]

  3. Nick Younker says:

    I was skeptic about this book. I was not a big fan of Bird Box, but I acknowledge his talents as a writer. I may just give this try. Thanks for the review!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.