Black Mad Wheel, by Josh Malerman
In an out of the way Army hospital, there is a broken man.
He lies in his bed, unable to move due to the horrible extent of his injuries. Every bone in his body has been broken, yet somehow he lives. And he has a surreal and harrowing story to tell, provided he can make himself remember.
In that same hospital there is a doctor, but he’s not as he appears.
He’s looking after the broken man, but not how you’d think. There are daily injections of a new and secret drug, which seem to be healing his patient a lot faster than normal. And something in his lies leads the broken man to decide that, when it all comes back to him, he shouldn’t tell the doctor much of anything.
And in the oldest desert in the world, there is a sound.
It’s powerful and strange, and may be as old as life on Earth. It’s why the broken man and his friends were sent to the desert in the first place. It’s what nearly destroyed him, and may do the same to others if the doctor gets his way.
Because the sound is here, in the hospital, and may not let the broken man heal in time to warn about what it brings…
Josh Malerman is making serious strides towards becoming a fresh, new voice in what’s often called the New Weird. His previous major work, Bird Box, was a white-knuckle tale of a world where the act of seeing brought madness and death, and escape required going into danger’s way while blind. It was one of the stand out titles of the year, breathing new life into the somewhat tired contagious-killer apocalypse genre (normally populated by zombies).
With Black Mad Wheel, he’s delivered a more metaphysical thriller. Thanks to its excellent pacing it manages to be both languid and urgent at the same time, and gives a lot to chew on as the tension ratchets up. A sound can do more than kill, and the ghosts of our past are never too far away to bring back, one black note at a time.
But Wheel’s real achievement is a deceptively simple one: spite of the heavy thinking, it’s an extremely approachable read. It’s a book only a musician like Malerman could write, but not one you have to be a musician to understand. In an age of more-hip-than-thou thinkpieces masquerading as genre-bending stories, that’s both accomplishment and relief.
Black Mad Wheel may not answer all the questions it poses, but that is not a terrible thing in this case. Much like with music, itself, some answers have to come from the audience.
Black Mad Wheel drops May 23rd, and is available for pre-order from Schuler Books and Music’s website now.
- Jim Tremlett, Eastwood