Alright, so for all of October, because I’m crazy obsessed with Halloween and all that jazz, I’m doing a review per week focusing on scary stories only (yay!)
author: Josh Malerman
genre: horror, western
I grabbed this beat-up ARC at work (Indigo Books, one of the many book-related perks of the job) and have been waiting for the most opportune moment to start. As you can see, the release date was April 10th so I’ve been holding onto this bad boy for a while. I am really glad I waited just because not only is this an amazing novel in its own right, I feel like its power is amplified during the autumn season…even though this book isn’t about autumn.
This story is about Carol Evers, who suffers from a rare condition that manifests as periodic death-like comas. To the outside world, Carol looks dead but inside her body, she is trapped in Howltown where she is unable to move but can hear everything going on around her in the world. Her husband, Dwight, sick of his strong-willed wife, decides to take advantage of her condition in order to inherit a sizable fortune. The only other living person who knows about Carol’s condition is the outlaw of the Trail, James Moxie and upon hearing word of Carol’s supposed death, decides to race back to Harrow to stop Dwight from burying Carol alive, all the while being a target of a death plot himself.
Judging from the synopsis on the back (a wee different from the ones I always write for my reviews), I was initially worried that the story would drag because it would be told completely from the perspective of Carol in the coma. I’ve read books before told from a similar perspective and while there is the interesting stream of consciousness or memory content in the plot, the location is pretty bound and not much actual “action” happens. This is totally not the case with Unbury Carol, however. Each chapter features a different limited omniscient perspective, jumping from Carol to Dwight to James Moxie, and even some minor characters. This keeps things interesting and fresh, while also exploring character motivations.
There are also a couple of great stylistic elements throughout this book that I thought really added to the story. I’m just going to quickly mention them here so I don’t let this post get out of control. Let’s start with motifs:
Magic is a constant theme, insofar as crafty characters are able to outwit their foes. Most notably, known for performing a life-and-death trick in Abbestown, James Moxie has been made a legend because no one can figure out how he escaped. Some think the magic is real and others are more skeptical, but Moxie has never shared his secret. Can his abilities help him once again, this time against enemies who wield actual magic? Malerman teases us with little bits of information about some of these tricks, but enough to keep you invested the whole way through.
Rot in any ordinary novel would usually be a theme or maybe a recurring action but only in Unbury Carol would rot also appear as a character. There is symbolic and literal rot throughout, folks, don’t you worry, but it also seems that rot plays a hand in guiding fate and organizing death-related issues. I am definitely not explaining this well, but if you are at all interested, just give this book a try.
The Trail is what I would call a limited setting, only describing a few nearby towns and the dark road that links them together. I thought that it was really effective to provide such limited physical information since that would historically be the only information worth sharing for those living in the western expansion. Even if characters had known more about the geography of the region, travel and business would be Trail-centric so it makes sense that this novel is Trail-centric too.
Usually in my reviews, even the five-star ones, I like to include one CON because I believe that no book is truly perfect but I had a reaallllyyyy tough time with this one because there was nothing that I didn’t like. I have never read Josh Malerman before and now I know why he is a Bram Stoker award-winning author. This type of horror is literary and beautiful and mysterious. I can’t wait to read something else from him in the future!
Read if you like: Vermillion, the Premature Burial, The Prestige
***specially themed rating system! 5/5 bats 😀