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Pearl – Josh Malerman

“Sing for me, Brother Jeff. Sing for Pearl.”

There is something unsettling about Walter Kopple’s farm out on Murdock Road. Something that makes you drive a little faster when going past, that makes you feel a bit like you walked through cobwebs. Jeff and Aaron don’t like visiting their grandfather’s farm because of the way it feels. They know, as does everyone, something is wrong at the farm. Something is wrong with the pigs and the large male who lords over them, Pearl. Pearl with his one good eye, and one black sunken eye. Pearl understands his kind is raised only to be slaughtered. But Pearl has other plans. Over the course of one day, the barn where Pearl resides will bring Hell to Earth and no one who enters Pearl’s domain will ever be the same.

Pearl is a horror novel about a telepathic pig who lives on a farm. The description sounds too silly to be scary. I assure you it is scary. This novel is a freight train that starts at full throttle and never lets up. Pearl is an old-school homage to Stephen King’s Cujo and Clive Barker’s startling short story anthology Books of Blood. It is Horror with a capital H, not a thriller and not a suspense novel. Pearl is a gory, violent, unsettling tale of madness and revenge and embued with pervasive dread that grips the reader on the first page and never releases. If King and Barker are your jam I can confidently say this is a journey worth taking. Just don’t be surprised when the nightmares come.

From the first chapter to the last Josh Malerman (Bird Box) spins a tale that is relentless in the telling. The language he uses is as sharp as a razor and the story doesn’t have an ounce of fat. Malerman also uses the distinctive cadence, language, and punctuation to delineate thoughts, similar to Stephen King. This passage is a good example:

“Susan looked at the woman.
Kill him, she thought. KILL HIM.
And now the king pig noticed her. His good eye shined in the dark, But no, it was his bad eye.
Something white beneath a wrinkled lid.
Susan heard a voice explode in her skull.
SING FOR ME, BROTHERS BLUE. SING FOR PEARL.”

There is no safety in the narration, nothing is at a remove. The reader is right there with every tormented soul and left trying to sort through what is real and what are the illusions of a mad god pig.  At just under 300 pages Pearl is a fast read. There are no sub-plots, no extraneous scenes, no breaks from the story. I recommend setting aside a few hours one sunny afternoon and reading it in one go for maximum effect. This is not a story for everyone but for fans of expertly designed tales of horror, where the style is as important as the story, you’ll be in hog heaven. This is one of my favorite novels of the last several years. If you can handle it, do not miss it.

NOTE: Pearl includes explicit scenes of animal cruelty, gore, and graphic violence.

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