By Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey
Carol Evers is a woman with a dark secret. She has died many times . . . but her many deaths are not final: They are comas, a waking slumber indistinguishable from death, each lasting days.
Only two people know of Carol’s eerie condition. One is her husband, Dwight, who married Carol for her fortune, and—when she lapses into another coma—plots to seize it by proclaiming her dead and quickly burying her . . . alive. The other is her lost love, the infamous outlaw James Moxie. When word of Carol’s dreadful fate reaches him, Moxie rides the Trail again to save his beloved from an early, unnatural grave.
And all the while, awake and aware, Carol fights to free herself from the crippling darkness that binds her—summoning her own fierce will to survive. As the players in this drama of life and death fight to decide her fate, Carol must in the end battle to save herself.
Unbury Carol landed hot on my radar when I initially heard of its upcoming April release. Malerman made a lasting impression on me with his dark dystopian tale Bird Box. So I was chomping at the bit to explore his work further. Not generally a fan of westerns (for no particular reason) I was uncertain of my initial encounter, but in the end, I was smitten.
Carol Evers suffers from an extremely unconventional affliction. She periodically falls into comas indiscernible from death. These episodes last for days, and unfortunately, the only two people who are aware of this condition are a money-grubbing husband and a long lost love. When Carol falls into her next coma and her husband plots to have her buried alive, that long-lost love and infamous outlaw Moxie hits the trail to save her from an untimely death. Unknowingly to both, Carol is aware of the events occurring around her and fighting her own battle to stay alive.
“The monster, Carol thought, looks different when nobody’s watching.”
What I appreciated..
- A western that feels unlike any western I have ever encountered.
- An innovative plot that stands beautifully on its own.
- An eccentric ensemble of characters that kept the narrative fresh and engaging. The outlaws are truly the stars here.
- A clever blend of fantasy, magical realism, and horror that feels balanced.
- The open setting of the trail and each passing town feel well developed and complete. They offer a nice contrast to Carol’s isolated, internal entrapment.
- Malerman’s bizarre and defining writing style keeps the reader on their toes.
“Passing the dark, low fields just south of Harrows, Smoke saw a scarecrow that reminded him, in shape, of his mother. Inspired by it, he imagined her burning. He imagined the dresses from her closet … the curls in her blond hair … the rims of her glasses … all of it and everything blistering, bending, burning.”
Challenges some may encounter..
- Carol lacks presence or the ability to command it at times as a protagonist due to her condition.
- Initially, the narrative can feel slightly muddled.
- The ending may feel lackluster in comparison to the preceding events.
Unbury Carol will find a special home among those who can appreciate the peculiar and unexpected. Malerman delivers the tried and true tale of good vs evil in an anything but traditional style. The end result is a bizarre read that can easily be classified as pure entertainment.
Pair this one with a nice cinnamon chai because it has a kick to it.
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