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Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas


Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas

» Click here to read Ray Palen's review.


Review #1 by Joe Hartlaub

GOBLIN is a dark, modern-day version of Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO for horror aficionados. Author Josh Malerman has demonstrated time and again his masterful ability to craft atmospheric tales with unforgettable characters (sympathetic and otherwise). But he tops himself with this nightmarish account of a small, quirky and quietly terrifying town where the rain seemingly never stops.

As the subtitle indicates, the book is composed of six novellas loosely connected by location and character references to the town of Goblin. Malerman is deliberately vague as to its location and the time frame of the stories, which I would place somewhere in the latter quarter of the 20th century. There is also, as a bit of lagniappe, a short story divided into a Prologue (“Welcome”) and Epilogue (“Make Yourself at Home”). It revolves around the delivery of a mysterious box and extremely specific instructions regarding transport and dropoff. What could go wrong?

"It is very difficult to get these stories out of one’s head once they have been digested.... One familiar with the town might be hesitant to read more but would find doing so impossible to resist."

“A Man in Slices” is about the friendship of Richard and Charles, two residents of Goblin who first met when Charles’ family moved there. Charles was and is the odd duck who Richard took under his wing during their childhood. Richard functions as a supportive sounding board for Charles, a role with which they both seem comfortable. Things start going off-kilter when Charles begins a long-distance relationship with a young woman who makes sinister requests for him to prove her love. He acquiesces but uses deception to do so, much to Richard’s dismay.

“Kamp” is an oddly unsettling tale about a man who is afraid of ghosts in general. He is in the right place to feed that fear as he transforms his living quarters and everything else to guard against the invasion that is ultimately of his own doing. We then meet Neal Nash in “Happy Birthday, Hunter!” The occasion is Nash’s 60th birthday party, an evening in wretched excess hosted by his wife, Barbara. Nash is determined to celebrate by being the first to acquire as a trophy one of the mysterious and menacing owls that occupy Goblin’s local woods. He enlists two of his hunting pals to assist him in this endeavor, but an unexpected gatecrasher spoils the party.

“Presto” is perhaps my favorite novella in GOBLIN. It proceeds on twin tracks --- one involving the evolution of the career of a magician traveling on the Spell Circuit who performs under the name “Roman Emperor,” and the other concerning Pete, a middle school student in Goblin who aspires to be a magician and who idolizes the enigmatic Emperor. The manner and skill with which Emperor performs his magic come at a price --- Goblin’s unique cemetery comes into play here --- but while the interaction between Pete and Emperor is brief yet memorable, it is the ending that makes it the stunner it is.

“A Mix-Up at the Zoo” is hallucinatory and surreal. A custodian at the Goblin Zoo becomes a tour guide there both by accident and by design. He continues working both jobs while laboring at a rendering plant on the weekends, with disastrous results. It is somewhat unsettling and will echo in your memory the next time you visit an animal collective of any sort.

“The Hedges,” the last story, introduces Wayne Sherman, who is frequently mentioned in the previous pieces. Sherman put Goblin on the map with his hedge-sculpting tributes to its famous citizens, as well as a seemingly impossible hedge maze that has become a tourist attraction for the city. Things begin to unravel, and badly, when a young girl with keen instinct and observation solves the maze quite easily. This causes a chain reaction of events that brings the exposure of Sherman’s past and present life to the pleasure of no one.

It is very difficult to get these stories out of one’s head once they have been digested. I sense that Malerman by design has left spaces between each tale that may be filled at a later date. One familiar with the town might be hesitant to read more but would find doing so impossible to resist, which also might explain why the residents of Goblin never leave. You won’t either, without finishing these novellas in one sitting.


Review #2 by Ray Palen

Author Josh Malerman has collected six novellas originally written in 2017 and strung them together for his latest novel, GOBLIN. It’s not what you may think. This Goblin is not a mythical creature but a place, a small town full of secrets and horrors that at times may defy the imagination.

Malerman is one of the most intelligent writers of horror fiction working today. His books approach literary fiction, and each feels like an instant classic. He is now a much-deserved household name in the genre following the global success of BIRD BOX and its sequel, MALORIE. The first was a record-setting Netflix movie, and I am hoping the latter will be given the film treatment as well.

As a reader of dark horror and fantasy for most of my life, I do not scare easily. However, GOBLIN put some chills down my spine and created vivid horrific images that I will not soon forget. One of the creepiest parts of the book is the Prologue, which is simply titled “Welcome.” Tom, a delivery truck driver, is promised a nice pay day if he delivers a large crate to an address in the town of Goblin that is over an hour away. There are some very eerie stipulations given to him about the item: Do not deliver before midnight as the recipient will not be home before then. Do not deliver past 12:30am. If that window is missed, the driver must destroy the contents of the box. Lastly, the driver is not to open the box under any circumstances, even if he thinks he hears a voice coming from it.

"This collection is a wicked hybrid of Rod Serling’s 'The Twilight Zone' and Stephen King’s Creepshow as each story features a blend of the ironic and the horrific. It is a must-read for any fan of the supernatural genre."

The first story is called “A Man in Slices,” and if the Prologue gave me shivers, this one succeeded in properly creeping me out. When Richard Robin moves to Goblin as a young boy, the first person who befriends him is Charles Ridnour, who is around the same age. Charles promises to show Richard around and see everything that the town has to offer. He reveals that the headstones in the Goblin Cemetery are set so close to each other because their dead are all buried standing up. As the boys begin to grow up together, Richard notices that Charles’ behavior becomes increasingly bizarre and just on the edge of twisted. Charles gets kicked out of their summer camp for pretending to have drowned just to see how the counselors would react.

The boys eventually separate and attend different colleges. When they reunite during a break from school, Richard sees that Charles has changed but possibly for the worse. Charles has finally found a girlfriend, but she is making sick demands of him to prove his love, which include shipping off parts of his body to her. At first he takes body parts from cadavers at the local morgue, but once that supply runs out, he comes up with an even more bizarre solution to continue his new hobby.

“Kamp” is about a middle-aged man who is afraid of being scared to death. It does not help that Walter Kamp is overweight and has an overactive imagination. He lives alone and sleeps on a see-through bed made of plexiglass. Kamp sets his alarm clock to go off throughout the night so he can search his tiny apartment for ghosts. He imagines that he sees them everywhere, particularly the reanimated versions of his deceased parents. It doesn’t help that his 88-year-old landlady watches him like a hawk and presses him to tell her stories of Goblin history (he is a former history teacher and thus has an encyclopedic knowledge of their town). What will happen when digging up this history smacks directly into the paranoid mind of a man who is one fright away from dying of a heart attack?

“Happy Birthday, Hunter!” features Neal Nash, one of Goblin’s wealthiest residents. He and his wife, Barbara, have decided to throw a wild party in celebration of his 60th birthday, which truly will be memorable. Neal’s hobby is an odd one --- he is a big-game hunter who is constantly seeking rare and uncatchable creatures to consume and use for adornment in his mansion. The 1,000+ guests are partying hard under huge tents because it is always raining in Goblin. They are served all types of obscure meats from animals you would never dream of ingesting. It doesn’t take long for Neal to collect his hunting posse and head off, inebriated, into the North Woods in search of the giant creature known as the Great Owl. Nobody has ever caught one, and many have perished trying. There is an ironic twist at the end that is very satisfying.

“Presto” is about the famous magician Roman Emperor who, for some odd reason, has decided to perform a show in the obscure town of Goblin. A young boy named Peter will do anything to attend the late-night performance, having no idea what will happen when he is in the presence of his hero. However, Emperor is not your typical magician as he does magic for the departed, the unliving, the dead.

“A Mix-Up at the Zoo” is set at the Goblin Zoo and focuses on Dirk Rogers, an overworked employee. Dirk works his way up from custodian to zookeeper, as he has an odd way of connecting with all of the various animals, and can be found at the slaughterhouse on weekends. Describing his life as waking up each day an optimist and going to bed despaired, he begins to have dreams about the zoo and an odd figure he calls Mixed-Up Man. Serious problems arise when he realizes that Mixed-Up Man may be himself, and the biggest mix-up could be when he confuses his two jobs.

“The Hedges,” the last story, features a maze of hedges much like the one that director Stanley Kubrick thought up for The Shining. Wayne Sherman created them as a tribute to his late wife, Molly. One night, he finds a man wandering inside the maze who says he needs to sell tickets to people so they can explore it. Not only does Sherman do this, he also puts up billboards on the highway leading into Goblin about his newly built “tourist attraction.” No one ever makes it out until young Margot knocks on his door. She lets him know that she did it in under three hours and is going to the police station to tell them what she found inside.

GOBLIN finishes up with an Epilogue titled “Make Yourself at Home,” which completes the tale started in the Prologue --- and what an ending it is! I especially enjoyed how the six stories do not run into each other but are cleverly sprinkled with suggestions and brief allusions to the others. This collection is a wicked hybrid of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” and Stephen King’s Creepshow as each story features a blend of the ironic and the horrific. It is a must-read for any fan of the supernatural genre.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and Ray Palen on May 22, 2021

Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas
by Josh Malerman