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:

A House at the Bottom of a Lake, by Josh Malerman

Nine stars

Having read one of his recent psychological thrillers, I was eager to plunge into this novella by Josh Malerman. James has had his eye on Amelia for a while and has wanted to ask her out but lacked the courage. When the moment arises and they both agree to spend time together, their first date seems cemented. Wanting to try something different, James uses his uncle’s canoe and takes Amelia out on the lake. They paddle together, traversing through a tunnel and into a second connected body of water. This area is much quieter and away from the speedboat traffic. As they drift along, James notices something at the bottom of the lake, pointing it out to Amelia. Could it be a roof… atop an entire house? As they both take the time to peer into the water, James and Amelia learn that the house seems firmly grounded to the lakebed, but cannot fathom what might have brought it there. Taking turns diving down, James and Amelia soon discover that the house is fully furnished and everything is stuck in place—defying any forces of gravity— as if it were meant to be underwater. Planning future dates that focus around more exploration of the house, James and Amelia discover that a love affair is brewing, both between one another and with the house. Other mysteries await the curious reader in this well-developed novella that is distinctly Malerman. Recommended for those who like something a little supernatural and full of symbolism.

I thoroughly enjoyed the single novel I have read by Malerman, but have read some blurbs about others that may surely make their way onto my To Be Read list soon. In this novella, Malerman offers the reader some interesting insight into young love that soon turns into something supernatural. James and Amelia are inseparable throughout much of the piece, making their character development one in the same. Young and still uncertain about life, they share stories about dating and personal struggles before the house takes over all their conversations. Their connection, both physical and mental, gets stronger as the chapters pass, but there is also a struggle that seems to surface, which both pushes them apart and makes their bond even stronger. The house takes on its own persona, becoming more complex and alluring as the story moves forward. Its presence is the crux of the early narrative and soon becomes part of the psychological thrill of the entire novella. The story was decent enough, morphing from a teenage crush into something that envelopes them both and takes over their lives. Obsession, but not of the typical teenager variety. My father, who was an English teacher, would surely rage, as I choose not to delve into the many instances of symbolism throughout the piece. The attentive reader who enjoys finding these instances will be buoyed by the story’s strength on many levels. Malerman offers the reader with some spine tingles akin to some of the great psychological thriller writers of the time, proving that he is not an author to be dismissed. This shorter piece is easily digested in a single day, though the reader may want to take a break when things get a little intense. Perfect for vacation reading, though some may not want to take it to the beach.

Kudos, Mr. Malerman, for another wonderful piece that will keep me thinking. I needed something short, but the memory of the writing lingers!

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

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

Eight stars

After having this book so highly recommended to me by one of my friends on Goodreads, I decided to delve in to see what Josh Malerman might have to say in this twisted novel. Early into the story, Malerman introduces readers to his protagonist, Malorie, a young and somewhat fearful woman. Scrubbing the walls and carpets of blood stains, Malorie appears highly agitated and yet focussed on her task at hand, which serves only to up the ante of what is yet to come. The reader soon learns that something sinister is going on in the world; something that cannot be easily explained by anyone. It appears that out there, lurking in the open air, is something or some THINGS that will turn people mad simply by making eye contact. People are shut into their homes, covering windows and isolating themselves from the sights and sounds of the world beyond their doors. When venturing outside, blindfolds are used and aural stimulation becomes key. Malorie is set to challenge this world and after the death of her sister, answering the call in a newspaper, to find a group of people who are putting up a united front against whatever might be lurking. Arriving, Malorie makes the untimely admission that she is pregnant, wondering how she will raise a baby in these conditions and almost has herself ostracised before she enters the ‘safe house’. As the group prepares to reach out with others in the world, everything around them is crumbling. Running water becomes more scarce, food is strictly found within one’s pantries, and telephone lines begin to fizzle out. As the child inside her grows, Malorie encounters another woman who arrives at the safe house, also with child, and they work together to allay fears of the others that their offspring will not be detrimental to the greater whole, but a blessing. Trapped in their house as a bird might be in a cardboard box, Malorie and the others must find a way to subsist and not come into contact with the forces that could be anywhere at any given time. The narrative is interspersed with a ‘flash-forward’ of Malorie travelling in a boat with two small children who call her ‘mommy’, heading on an unknown adventure, though visual precautions are still high. What lies out there, in a world where a single twig cracking might mean imminent danger? Malerman offers readers little time to relax and ponder this, as things get more and more disturbing with each page-flip. A stellar piece that will keep readers up well into the night, for a multitude of reasons.

I’d not heard of this book before the other day, so when it received such hype, I had to see what Malerman might have done. The book reads very easily, though it is not ‘simple’, layering ideas and eerie thoughts between two time periods. Malorie is a well-developed character with complexities build into her backstory, as do some of the other characters that emerge as the story progresses. It is their individuality and the zig-zig pace of the narrative that gives this story some of its odd development, though one would be remiss not to think about the larger ‘happenings’ outside the four walls of the house. While there are some threads that remind me of Stephen King, more because of the odd way the characters act in the face of this unknown terror, Malerman stands firmly on his own two feet in his writing. Fair warning to the reader, once you start this book, you will find yourself enveloped in its progress and may find it hard to put it aside. It is that creepy that one must forge onwards, as Malorie and her children did in the boat, if only to see when and where terror might strike next. Beware and keep your eyes down, on the page (or the audiobook player, in my case) and do not interact with anyone until the final sentence. You’ll be glad you followed this simple rule! 

Kudos, Mr. Malerman for a stellar thriller. I will surely be putting this book out there for anyone who has an interest in the slightly (or extremely) eerie and psychologically stirring novel.