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Unbury Carol

Review

Unbury Carol

I used to read a lot of science fiction. I still would if more of the books classified under that genre were written in the manner of UNBURY CAROL. That said, this is not your typical genre novel under any classification. Fantasy and sci-fi fans who reflexively pick up this title due to its publication under the venerable Del Rey imprint will be surprised to find that it seems to be a western. It isn’t, at least in this world. It’s a western in the sense that Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is, though any further comparison would be unfair to all parties involved. UNBURY CAROL is (dare I say it?) a groundbreaking work, one that repeatedly startles and thrills and always entertains while constantly keeping readers unbalanced by leveraging their expectations about everything against them.

The world that author Josh Malerman has created here is best described by a map that is provided within the first few pages. Its defining element is something called the Trail, off of which a number of cities sprout at random points. We learn early on that the Trail is not a good place. Folks stick close to their respective home city unless absolutely necessary. There are counties, and some of the towns --- all of them small --- have familiar names (Samhattan, Portsoothe). But things are also a bit off. The only mode of transportation is by horse, and communication is done by telegram. It has the feel of the American West, but...it’s not quite there. The dialogue is fascinating, somewhere between rural and urban, and the third person narrative is written in a similar style, which makes UNBURY CAROL seem more like an account of actual events than a work of fiction.

"[T]his novel stretches, blurs and redefines the boundaries of genre fiction with beautifully written prose, sharp characterization, and brilliant, suspenseful plotting."

As to what occurs in the story itself, the “Carol” of the title is Carol Evers. Living in the town of Harrows at the top of the Trail, Carol has an unusual affliction that is known to only a very few. She has episodes when she suddenly falls into a deep coma that gives the appearance of death. As the book begins, she has attended the funeral of a friend --- one of three people who knew of her condition --- and is in the process of telling her secret to her friend and housekeeper when, without warning, she lapses into a coma once again. Carol’s husband Dwight, who married her for her vast fortune, is also aware of her condition. Believing that he is the only person who knows that Carol’s coma merely resembles death, he initiates a scheme to have her buried.

However, there is one other person who knows the truth. That would be a legendary outlaw named James Moxie. Carol and Moxie had a relationship years ago, and his biggest regret is that he left her when she told him of her illness. When Moxie, who is living in a distant town, hears that Carol has died and is to be buried, he knows the truth and begins the arduous journey to Harrows to prevent a tragedy. The Trail is dangerous enough under any circumstances, but when Dwight learns that his wife’s former lover is on the way, he takes steps to ensure that Moxie never makes it to Harrows. His plan involves a killer named Smoke, who moves up the Trail in pursuit of the outlaw.

Meanwhile, Carol, seemingly dead to the world, can hear what is going on around her and slowly becomes aware of her husband’s plan to bury her. As she rests in the comatose state between life and death that she refers to as “Howltown,” Carol is haunted and assaulted by demons of her own that want to keep her in her current state for eternity. Even as Moxie races to her rescue, Carol learns she has allies and resources --- including her own fortitude --- that she never knew she had. Still, those may not be enough.

UNBURY CAROL is complete in itself, but I get the sense (from one enigmatic clue in particular) that Malerman has plans to return to the world of the Trail --- if not necessarily to the Trail itself --- for at least three more books. Regardless, this novel stretches, blurs and redefines the boundaries of genre fiction with beautifully written prose, sharp characterization, and brilliant, suspenseful plotting. It is not to be missed by anyone who loves the act of reading.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 13, 2018

Unbury Carol
by Josh Malerman

  • Publication Date: April 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror, Western
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • ISBN-10: 0399180168
  • ISBN-13: 9780399180163