Review: Daphne by Josh Malerman (Spoiler-Free)
~ Thank you to Penguin Random House and NetGalley for the early copy in exchange for an honest review! RELEASE DATE: September 20 ~
I'm thinking of a blue raven. It flies from one end of my mind to the other and I can't hear it coming until it's already right up on me and I don't want to try any harder and I'm walking to the desk because I don't deserve this and Melanie and Tammy (and please NOT Kennedy please) DIDN'T DESERVE THIS and the bird is not going away, Jolly, the blue-jean raven is literally not going to go away, not so long as we tell ourselves: DON'T THINK ABOUT A BLUE RAVEN.
Once upon a time I had a book idea. I wanted to write something scary, something truly terrifying for me, a person with anxiety. And what's more scary than your own thoughts? The ones that come and become real and leak in like a cold, yellow oil and take hold and make death real and make every thing you think become a reality, and every thing you do into a question: will something terrible happen because of my next move?
I saw questions in everything, Jolly. If the detective's shoe squeaked against the gym floor, then THIS will happen. If Coach Wanda calls my name, then THIS. If someone interrupts someone else, if there's a moment of silence longer than three seconds, if the power goes out, if Principal Taylor enters the gym, if the door opens, if Melanie coughs, if Emily swears, if THEN if THEN if THEN, yes no yes no yes no, over and over, until literally nothing was done or said that wasn't preordained by Fate.
These are the questions that plague me. My mind haunts me more than any monster. So my idea for the scariest thing that could possibly happen was this: what if a monster only came the more you thought about it? What if what you had to escape was your own mind? Your own fear?
And then Josh Malerman wrote that book for me. And it was petrifying.
This might be the scariest book I've ever read. It stuck in my brain like an earworm—Daphne—every time I thought about it, I was reminded that I would have been her next target.
And premise aside, the events of this book are mortifying. Every scene is laced with so much suspense, my face probably turned blue from holding my breath (ha, if you've read it, you get the reference). But seriously, when you have descriptions like, She thinks of Tammy Jones's face caved in, imagines her looking like one of those rubber Halloween masks when you toss them on your bed, when they fold up, how the eyes get closer together, the nose gets longer, how the ends of the mouth curl in a way to suggest inevitable speech, you cannot possibly claim this book will not haunt you.
On top of its success as a horror novel, I was astounded by its descriptions of anxiety and how exactly they match my own experiences with it. Malerman is able to reduce down the feeling of dread and panic so perfectly, I'm in awe of how he managed to capture it. Here are a few examples:
1. I like to think I'm not alone on that front. I'm not the only one who lies in bed in the dark and worries that anxiety is gonna come squishing up the stairs like a worm, crawl under my door, crawl up my bed frame, into my bed, into my ear, into my head, into my mind, where it'll lay eggs and then there won't just be this one thought but a thousand of this one thought, these worms crawling around in the dark while I lie in the dark and the only thing I can do is to wait for them all to die. That's it, Jolly. The only real cure I've discovered at least. You just gotta wait for the anxiety to die.
2. Think we'll win? I wanna say yes. And so, you know what? Yes. But if you say a thing, does that make it so? Or does that make it not so? Does it support it? Or does it jinx it? Sorry, Jolly. I'm a handful.
3. And don't you know how it comes, Jolly? How it comes at you? There's no warning. Oh God, no sound at all. You could be laughing, really having a good time, and you suddenly feel this rubbery sensation, like either you're wearing a rubber suit or the person you're talking to is wearing one, and then you can't shake the feeling that we're all just floating minds in these pretend rubber suits and it makes you feel so small and helpless and like you're going to die.
Malerman has solidified himself as an author I will always read from, and I really need to get moving here and try Bird Box and Unbury Carol soon.
I can't stop thinking of her, Mom. I can't stop thinking of the one person I'm not supposed to think about.