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Once the calendar flips to October, it's time for me to read, watch and generally immerse myself in anything having to do with the supernatural. It’s just my way of honoring the Halloween and Samhain seasons. One book that meets these criteria and emerges as an instant horror classic is Josh Malerman’s PEARL. Originally released in 2018 as ON THIS, THE DAY OF THE PIG (I'm still debating which title is more disturbing), it is just the fodder you need to feed your scares this year and beyond.

I’ll let the cat out of the bag right up front: Pearl is a pig. Think more Napoleon from ANIMAL FARM or Jodie from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and less Wilbur from CHARLOTTE’S WEB or that pig from Babe. Pearl is one sentient, evil pig who is able to cast his spell over anyone who is easily malleable to his mind power. Many reviewers tend to aver how they couldn’t put a book down or raced to the finish. I’m typically not of that mindset; if you rush, I feel like you might miss something. PEARL is a novel to be savored. I often found myself putting it down to absorb what I had just read, or even gone back and reread certain passages to be sure I had a full understanding of what was going on.

"The finale of PEARL is simply surreal and will linger with you long after you have read the last page."

Knowing I was in the hands of a master like Josh Malerman, I recognized early on that I had better buckle up and go along for the ride with him. The book does not fail to disappoint on any level, and the writing is managed in such a way as to induce chills in even the most hardened skeptic of the supernatural.

At one point, Jeff is reading an old horror novel, BAD BRAINS by Kathe Koja. For those in the know, like Malerman obviously is, this is a classic from the former Dell/Abyss horror line that is worth finding and picking up. I love the brief description of that story and smiled as I thought about how it compared to what was being created in PEARL: “Still reeling from his divorce, would-be painter Austen takes a fall in a 7-Eleven parking lot that leaves him with brain damage and strange visions, a madness that sends him on a cross-country odyssey of debauchery and pain.” Yes, Pearl knows a lot about debauchery and pain.

Understanding that a well-taken-care-of pig can live upwards of 20 years, the family who owns Pearl is an interesting group. Each member is deeply affected and changed by their relationship with him. Their ability to communicate with Pearl via telekinesis makes for an intriguing plot device.

The novel takes an extremely dark turn when three local teens plan to break into the farm late one night and see this mystical pig up close. It will end up being a decision they wish they could take back.

The finale of PEARL is simply surreal and will linger with you long after you have read the last page. This deeply complex work falls somewhere between horror and literary fiction. Fans of the author will enjoy the reference to Goblin, the location of his prior novel that featured interlocking stories set in and around that mysterious small town. We had better watch out: Josh Malerman may be creating his own fictional place à la Stephen King where he can set the bulk of his horror tales to come.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 15, 2021

by Josh Malerman