Inspection, by Josh Malerman

Eight stars

Josh Malerman returns with another of his novels that bends the mind while captivating the reader’s attention from the get-go. Full of intriguing twists alongside layers of social commentary, Malerman has created yet another book that will have people thinking, even without a Netflix adaptation. A group of twenty-four boys live in a tall building, isolated from anyone else. These boys, each given a letter rather than a name—two boys, A and Z, are no longer with the group—were plucked from the jaws of death by undeserving or incapable mothers and placed in this fine-tuned social experiment. Honed to become geniuses in their fields, the Alphabet Boys are kept on a strict academic and social regimen, which includes no knowledge of the opposite sex. The leaders, known as The Parenthood, keep the boys isolated through lectures and literature that makes no mention of girls, as that would surely prove to be a distraction to genius behaviour. Regular ‘inspections’, which are both physican and mental tests, ensure the boys are in tip-top shape as they forge onwards to becoming the smartest they can be. However, there are some within The Parenthood who do not entirely agree with the social experiment, which has been going on for upwards of a dozen years, offering hints of the opposite sex in a piece of literature that is an epiphany and revelation rolled into one. Meanwhile, on the other side of the same isolated forest, someone looks up into the trees and sketches something that looks less arboreous and more along the lines of their own spired dwelling. Whispers begins and The Parenthood are alerted to the start of the disintegration of the social experiment. With the inspections come new truths and the Alphabet Boys have their blinders removed, as key members of The Parenthood scramble to herd their flock together. What will happen when all is revealed and will it change the dynamics of these young lives? Malerman does a fantastic job at keeping the reader guessing until the final pages, forcing deep thought while the reader is entertained by the premise. Recommended for those who have enjoyed some of Josh Malerman’s past novels that push the envelop.

I read Malerman before all the television hype, so I was expecting something with a great deal of controversy as I began this piece. I will admit that I was not fully enthralled when I started, but things progressed nicely and, by the halfway point, I was sold and needed to know how things would progress. There is so much to learn from Malerman and the characters he places in the middle of his story. While many of the Alphabet Boys play key roles, it would seem that J is the one the narrative chooses as a protagonist. A boy of twelve with high intellect, J seeks to better understand his surroundings without knowing anything different. What he does discover shocks many and leaves the reader quite interesting, pulling them deeper into the story. There are other key characters, though their exploration at this point would spoil too much. The premise of the novel was quite ingenious, pushing themes of scholastic focus and segregation of the sexes, using a social experiment as its foundation. One can only hope that Malerman has other books that push the limits. With chapters that go into great detail and offer up different angles of the entire situation, the reader is treated to a thorough analysis of the situation at hand and the fallout from the cracks that emerge. Truly some worthwhile food for thought, in this well-written piece that will have readers talking for some time.

Kudos, Mr. Malerman, for another winner. I cannot wait to find more of your work on which to feast and exercise my mind.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: