reviewed by Aaron McQuiston
Josh Malerman has been growing in popularity in large part due to the success of the Netflix adaptation of his hit, Bird Box. Before he sold Bird Box to Ecco/Harper in 2014, he had 14 manuscripts he had finished but never tried to publish.
In the last six years, since the publication of Bird Box, he has published eight novels and three novellas. Goblin was actually one of these, published in 2017 by Earthling Publications as a 500 copy, numbered, special edition. Needless to say, those all sold out years ago. Technically this is a reissue by Random House, but this is also a reissue that needs to exist.
Goblin is a town in Michigan filled with mystery and wonder. It’s supposed to have been a town built on spoiled land. Goblin gets above-average rainfall, buries their dead standing up, has exotic owls and a witch in the North Woods, and is definitely haunted. Malerman breaks this book up into six different novellas with a prologue and epilogue bookend story, every story unfolds more and more about the town of Goblin as it tells the individual stories. Malerman does this in a fantastic way. The first story has the characters take a walk through town to give the readers an idea of the set up. The second story has a historian who tells the origins of the town. The third story tells about the mysterious North Woods, with the Great Owls and the Whispering Witch. The fifth story tells about the attractions at the Hardy Carroll Goblin Zoo, and the sixth story tells about Hedges, a labyrinth tourist attraction built with hedges like the maze at the Overlook Hotel in the film version of The Shining. Not only does every novella add to the myth and lore of Goblin, but they also tell some really great horror stories as well. I loved the tension that builds in every story, and there are a few stories, particularly “Kamp” and “The Hedges” where I had to hurry to read the final sentences so I could stop holding my breath.
The great thing about Goblin being a series of novellas instead of short stories, Malerman has time to make Goblin a town that feels like another character. There is not the urgency of a short story, but there is also the fact that most readers will not like every story but there is an eventual escape coming soon with an ending and the start of another completely different story. Most of these stories are riveting and push me to keep reading, but a few of them just do not fit as well into the collection as others. One of these is the fourth story, “Presto” about a magician that is coming into Goblin for a one-night performance. This story is great as a whole, the mystery of whether or not the magician’s magic is too good for anyone to figure out or if it is really magic, but it does not fit as well into the book as the others because it spends more time with the magician named Roman Emperor than it does with the people of the town. The way that all of the other stories add more to the mystery and history of the town, and the absence of that in this story, really puts a spotlight on this being missed.
As a whole, there are many people who will not want to read this because it is a series of novellas instead of a novel, but it does not feel like a typical short story collection. All the settings interweave, and at the end of this extraordinary book readers will understand Goblin is about a place and its people: a town filled with eccentrics, curses, and mystery.
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.