Spin A Black Yarn by Josh Malerman is a compilation of five very different novellas, all taking place in a fictitious town called Samhattan. I’ll review each one separately here in order of my preference.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars: Half the House Is Haunted. I loved this story. Part One is titled “8 AND 6” and is narrated by siblings Robin (6 years old) and Stephanie (8 years old). Stephanie has told her younger brother that half of the gothic mansion they call home is haunted. But which half? The top? Bottom? North side? South side? Or maybe every other tile in the entryway is haunted or every other step on the stairs leading to the second floor? Stephanie isn’t telling, but she is trying to scare her brother and doing a good job of it. This novella screamed to me of Shirley Jackson and it is quiet horror at its best. The interplay between the siblings actually reminded me of a time when I was about eight and we went to visit cousins in Connecticut. My cousins were older and I remember Norman telling my sister and I that there was a light switch on the wall that would blow the house up! I believed him and, long into adulthood, I remained wary of light switches. It’s this kind of psychological trickery that Stephanie unleashes on her younger brother. The novella follows the two through adulthood and eventually the death of one. I loved this novella and couldn’t put it down!
5.0 out of 5.0 stars: Doug and Judy Buy the House Washer. This story is a real gem. From the opening sentence, the reader knows he/she is in for a treat. The house washer is an appliance that cleans the entire house — the rugs, the walls, the closets, the furniture, clothing, dishes, etc., etc. While the house washer is working, the home’s occupants are kept secure sitting in a tube that extends from floor to ceiling from which they can watch their new, expensive appliance at work. Doug and Judy, who are only interested in money and status, purchase one of these machines without really bothering to find out anything about it. All they care about is how envious their friends and neighbors will be. But that soon changes as they sit inside the tube and watch as the washer not only cleans, but ferrets out all their dirty little secrets. Perhaps they should have read the instruction book? This was such a fun read. I was enthralled from the first sentence to the last.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars: The Jupiter Drop. When I first saw the title of this novella, I was a little bit disappointed. I don’t really like sci-fi. But, as I got into it, I found it to be more an exercise in psychological horror which is right in my wheelhouse. Steve Ringwald is a man riddled with guilt over the accidental death of his neighbor. The neighbor was outside raking leaves into the gutter when Steve drove by and just ever so slightly nicked him. The neighbor, not injured, smiled, but then fell backward, hitting his head. He subsequently died. Steve, consumed with guilt, loses his family and, now alone, sees an ad in the local newspaper for The Jupiter Drop. This adventure consists of a free-fall trip through the planet Jupiter. Participants are locked in an apartment in which the walls, ceiling and floor are all transparent so that everywhere they look they see the ever-changing gaseous nature of the planet. The journey through Jupiter takes two months and Steve’s only companions are virtual friendly faces and a virtual “mom.” This novella takes the reader on a psychological journey which, by the end, he/she may not be sure what it real and what isn’t. Another great read. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
4.0 out of 5.0 stars: Argyle. This novella is the story of a man who, on his deathbed, surrounded by his loving family and friends, confesses that he’s always been a serial killer wannabe. He admits to having fantasies of killing each and every one of them and that now, as his life wanes, he is proud to say that he has made it through life without succumbing to his urges except for maybe one little slip. The man tells his story as friends and family move in and out of the room, some enthralled, others shocked and horrified. This was an interesting story and parts of it were riveting. However, at times, I found myself getting a little bored waiting for something to happen. But still, I recommend it.
2.0 out of 5.0 stars: Egorov. This story has the seeds of a really engrossing read — the plot involving a set of triplets, one of which is senselessly murdered. The remaining two brothers, decide to mentally torture the man they believe responsible for their sibling’s death, by haunting him. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I thought so at first, but then it goes off on tangents. Another man confesses to the murder and, while he has nothing to do with the haunting, a lot of time is spent on him. Also, a lot of words are wasted on the brothers’ mother, father, wives, etc., making the book entirely too long and, to me, tedious. The haunting, which is the compelling part of the novella, seems to take a backseat to the other ruminations and I struggled to keep reading because I was getting hopelessly bored. If this were tightened up, it could be quite a good read, but as it is, I’ll take a pass on it.
In summary, I highly recommend Spin A Black Yarn by Josh Malerman. In a collection of stories like this, not every read is going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But the ones that did it for me, outshine those that didn’t. Thank you to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of this great collection of stories.