Goblin: A Novel In Six Novellas by Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman’s Goblin is a fascinating glimpse into a truly peculiar town, not altogether dissimilar from some of the fictional Maine locales made popular by Stephen King. Also, like King, the tales Malerman weaves of the rainy town of Goblin are unevenly paced and of vastly different content and quality. This does not, as one might suspect, take anything away from the amazing quality of this collection of interconnected novellas. It works out perhaps better than Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country did, where that collection wove together connected tales of a single family and this one immerses us in the haunted title town.
Goblin is a place of near-constant rainfall, a place haunted and evil before man ever made the mistake of settling there in a town built on a history of bloody violence and betrayal. It is a town where the impenetrable North Woods are home to giant predatory owls and a witch who breaks the hearts of those she tells her stories to, where inhuman police produce shivers in even the most courageous residents, and where the key to the city has been missing for years.
The Prologue & Epilogue (Welcome & Make Yourself At Home) provide an almost perfect bookend to the stories contained within this book…especially since the tales reach their respective crescendos at approximately the same time on the same night of nightmares and downpours…as a reckoning of sorts falls upon the town and its residents.
A Man In Slices tells us a story of twisted friendship and the sacrifices such a friendship might require.
Kamp delves into the paranoid, fearful mental landscape of a man who fears–well, to borrow from FDR–fear itself. Sure, he’s terrified of encountering a ghost, but it’s the resulting fear upon experiencing that encounter that he’s truly terrified of.
Happy Birthday, Hunter! brings us face-to-face with the manic, self-absorbed, single-minded dedication of a big game hunter and his overwhelming need to pursue the greatest game of his life…and a wife with an unwelcome surprise present.
Presto introduces us to a world of magic and illusion that might just be more real than it seems.
A Mix-Up At the Zoo is a sad story about a simple, friendly giant of a man who spends too much time burning the candle at both ends and gets confused about where he is and what he’s doing. The ending of this particular story, as predictable as it might have been, was all the more heartbreaking for playing out exactly as a reader anticipates it will.
The Hedges splits its narrative time between telling us a fantastic, beautiful love story and exploring the mysteries we’ve already been exposed to as we reached this point in the collection. This is the story where we finally begin to glimpse precisely why the residents of Goblin are so terrified of the police, and rightfully so.
Yes, this collection is uneven…but it’s telling us the story of a town through the interrelated snapshots of the residents…and that unevenness makes it feel all the more real. No real city is uniformly interesting or captivating to all comers when we’re diving into the lives of those who reside within. In the end, Malerman does what he set out to do–I suspect–by crafting a place that becomes more real to the readers than many real-world places ever might be. This is doubly impressive when one considers just how unreal Goblin is.


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