Like many others, I hadn’t heard of Josh Malerman until I came across Bird Box. This was several years ago, too, back before the Netflix movie had even been announced. Someone simply recommended the book to me online, and the title caught my attention. I quickly Googled it, then borrowed it from the library at my next opportunity, and started it immediately. I got so sucked in that it was nice, because that doesn’t always happen for me due to a myriad of factors, and I now consider it to be one of the better books I’ve ever read.
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Josh Malerman cemented himself as one of my favourite authors on that day, or during that week as I should say. Since then, I’ve gone on to try to read all of his works, and just have four left. One is Unbury Carol, which I bought from a cheap bookseller and have high on my massive to-read-soon list, and another is Pearl, which was previously published as On This, The Day of the Pig. I’ve got its recent reissue out from the library, and need to get to it soon. The same is basically true of both Black, Mad Wheel and Malorie, the sequel to Bird Box.
I intend to read them all soon, and look forward to doing so.
Even if you’re someone who’s somehow never heard of Bird Box, or any of the author’s other works, there’s still a chance he’s impacted your life without you realizing it. You see, Josh Malerman is also a musician, and his band — The High Strung — were responsible for the theme song to the American version of TV’s Shameless.
Needless to say, he’s got a lot going on.
Enter Ghoul N’ The Cape, which is another massive endeavor that is just about to see the light of day. Then again, the word massive may not be big enough to describe it.
Coming from Earthling Publications, Ghoul N’ The Cape is a novel with a title that suggests it’s a comic book. It’s fitting, though, because this gigantic story is odd, unique and downright colourful. It’s unlike anything you’ve likely ever read, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reading Copy (or ARC) of Ghoul N’ The Cape, and have spent quite a while reading what will now go down as being the longest book I’ve ever read. Prior to this it was Stephen King’s Under the Dome, which was well over 1000 pages when I read it upon release.
At first, it wasn’t obvious that Mr. Malerman’s latest was longer than Mr. King’s epic, but I looked things up and it seems to be true. Then again, I had an inkling when I opened the package and set eyes upon this oversized paperback for the first time. Not only is it larger in height and general width than any other book I’ve read, but it’s also 710 pages long, with type that isn’t that large. Hell, it’s almost like reading a textbook. Not in terms of substance, but in look and feel.
Side note: Only the ARC is in paperback form. If you order Earthling Publications’ first edition, you’ll receive what is described as being an autographed ‘oversized hardcover,’ containing paintings and approximately 750 pages. The price? Seventy-five American dollars.
Good thing there’s a lot of bang for one’s buck here.
Although Josh Malerman is typically known as one of the horror genre’s best and brightest ‘new’ and ‘upcoming’ authors, Ghoul N’ The Cape isn’t something I’d classify as fitting snug within that genre. In fact, this is more of a strange fiction experience, in which two eccentrics meet and begin a road trip across America. Sure, there are scary moments and strange happenings, but not in the same vein as Bird Box, A House at the Bottom of a Lake or Goblin.
Like Inspection — my favourite of Josh’s books thus far — this is something different.
This lengthy, quirky and unforgettable tale begins in an otherwise forgettable dive bar on New York City’s Water Street. It’s there where a white haired eccentric wearing a black cape is first introduced to the reader, as he walks inside and orders a drink. Shortly after his, the strange man ambles over to a booth where a small, oddly proportioned man is passed out in a booth. After betting the nice bartender that he can wake this man up, the Cape does his best to do so, before offering the stranger a drink and trying to entice him into going on a trip.
You see, the Naught is nigh. You can also call it the Ghost Star, but both names belong to the same creature: A massive being that is en route to our planet, with intentions of eating the United States of America. Thus, the Cape is headed west, and he wants everyone else to do so, including this strange, homeless drunk named Ghoul.
Yes, that is his name.
After showing Ghoul the Naught’s position in the sky, the Cape finally entices his new friend to accompany him west, after promising free drinks and a suitcase full of $21,000, which just so happens to be located on some warm beach. Thus begins one of the most unique and memorable road trips in the history of fiction.
There’s honestly not a lot more that I can say about this plot without threatening to ruin it. So much happens over the course of the next seven hundred pages, and a lot of it is unexpected, not to mention strange and surreal. Together, Ghoul and the Cape meet some very colourful people, and find themselves in strange situations that not only threaten their safety but their lives as well. All the while, they’re trailed by the Cape’s mysterious Naught, and its different agents, one of which is a man carrying a massive knife.
Just know that this is a lengthy proposition you won’t regret accepting. Once you finish this book, you’ll wonder what you just read and likely have a hard time not thinking about it. This weird road trip novel is as original as it is memorable, and it’s another home run from a talented author.
Josh Malerman adopted a different writing style for this particular book, but it works. At times, it can be very stream of consciousness, and employs characters who like to think and opine about the world around them. Both of its main characters are eccentrics who happen to attract the same type of people as they cross the United States from east to west, telling everyone who’ll listen to head west.
Ghoul N’ the Cape could also easily be considered a character study, despite its leads’ eccentricities. As the author described them, the Cape is a man with urgency about him and Ghoul is someone who needs change despite being afraid of it and not necessarily knowing. Although he’s happy sleeping in a booth at the back of pub, life has other things in mind for him. Meeting the Cape really brings something new out in a man who’s had a hard life due to bad luck and physical deformities he didn’t ask for, and meeting Ghoul also does a lot for Cape in return. Together, they form a very interesting and unlikely duo. Ghoul isn’t someone who’s readily willing to believe in conspiracies, though, and it’s up to the Cape to prove that what he says is threatening America is actually real.
It’s also important to note that what’s found within is a statement about modern day America. As such, the story (and it’s author’s) politics become obvious. I didn’t mind, though, and thought this turned out to be an interesting long form take on society, ignorance and generations.
Alas, I’m going to stop this lengthy review here because, as I said above, there’s not a lot more I can say without risking spoilers. Once this book gets going, it really gets going, and it hooks you despite its daunting length. At 300,000 words it asks a lot from its readers, but is well worth the necessary time investment.
Check out Ghoul N’ the Cape by Josh Malerman when you can, because you won’t regret it!
This review is based on an advanced copy of the book that we were provided with. Receiving a free copy did not sway our opinion or our review.