I can now state that I’ve read all of Josh Malerman’s major novels and consider myself a fan. And while I liked the Netflix adaptation of his seminal work, Bird Box, I can very honestly tell you the book is better. But if watching the Netflix movie made you curious about what else might be out there (and you really, really don’t want to read the book because you saw the movie), consider this post my official ranking of Malerman novels, from best to worst. Keep in mind, though, that I have no second thoughts about purchasing even the worst of these books, and encourage you to check out all of them!
Yes, this is his best novel so far. And yes, it will be difficult to beat. The problem is the book works so well that it already blows most comparable work out of the water. It’s scary. It’s thoughtful. And here’s the part that I like the most: there’s a mixture of dread and love existing in the space between the main characters. I don’t know exactly how else to describe it, except that I found myself rooting for everyone, even the worst among the group of survivors who hid out inside the abandoned house. If you don’t know the story–or if you’ve just watched the movie–read the book. The monsters feel more real than in the movie, and the fact that you have to read from line to line builds on the tension whenever anyone is in danger. The story carries with it some interesting themes that a lot of super smart people have dissected. Do the monsters represent racism? Or do they represent our obsession with technology? The stealing of vision is an almost crippling handicap, a reminder of how much we rely on this single sense, and how visually-oriented our day-to-day lives (and society) are.
Black Mad Wheel
A strange sound is emanating from the desert, powerful enough to cause crippling damage to anyone who hears it. So the government decides to send in a rock band to analyze the sound … obviously. If the premise sounds a little weird, my only recommendation is to go with it. Seriously, this is Malerman’s second-best novel precisely because of its weirdness. I never felt the same connection to any of the characters that I did with Bird Box, but the plot more than makes up for any shortcomings in that area. I’m ambivalent at best about plots that leave too much up to the reader’s imagination. It’s a personal, subjective preference, but I enjoy letting the writer take me to the end of the journey (so yes, I read to the end of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower). Malerman takes you to the end of this one, and it’s perfectly satisfying. Not only does the ending feel tense and nail-biting, I got the answers I wanted.
How do you raise a kid to be an upstanding, good human being–nay, a genius? Well, separate the boys and the girls, duh. No wait, go a step farther: never tell the boys that girls exist, and never tell the girls that boys exist! Here’s the thing: the plot is pretty straightforward. It’s well-written, it’s a fun read, but nothing about it ever really stood out as exceptionally original, much less super interesting. The premise is creepy, the children are written well, and it raises some interesting questions about the ethics of education. How far should we go to guarantee a child’s intellectual development? In the case of this particular novel, the answer is pretty terrifying. Standout character: the resident author who’s responsible for creating the texts students must study.
A moderately contemporary retelling of Sleeping Beauty, this book carries with it the distinction of death-by-fire at the hands of an outlaw who very discreetly squirts oil from his pants (or shoes, I think). Carol, our sleeping beauty, has the pesky habit of “dying”. Not quite entirely dead, she ends up in a deep sleep unable to wake. Her husband takes advantage of one of these incidents to declare her dead so he can steal her fortune. But when Carol’s ex-lover finds out, he rushes across the countryside to rescue her. According to Kirkus Reviews, this one “haunts you” for some reason. No, it really doesn’t, and it’s not the first time a cover blurb has over-sold a Josh Malerman book. But the story’s still fun, and Malerman is smart to keep his world as localized as possible to keep readers feeling isolated. There’s even a hint of a monster lurking in the shadows, but in the end I found myself craving more of Carol’s story as she struggles to pull herself out of the eerie dreamworld that holds her captive.