I have a confession to make…this is the first novel I’ve read by Josh Malerman. I blame all the wonderful writers out there writing all the wonderful books. After reading Daphne, Malerman’s brutal, terrifying new novel, I’ll be happily dipping into his back catalog, because this book rocks. It’s part serial killer novel, part slasher, part urban mythology, and part coming-of-age. Oh, and it’s scary as hell.
Daphne revolves around a high school girls basketball team who unwittingly awakens an evil—a hulking, unstoppable murderer named Daphne—that has stalked other basketball teams in the small town for decades. The story of Daphne is part urban myth, part scary story whispered at sleepovers, but that’s not quite right either, because the town seems to be suffering from a collective amnesia. Over the years, Daphne, who according to the stories was murdered by a group of townsfolk for various transgressions, has come back to slaughter young ballers; and then the locals, for the most part, forget it happened. Until it happens again.
Daphne works perfectly as straight-ahead horror—honestly, it might be a new classic—but it’s much more than that. Kit, the main protagonist, suffers from severe anxiety, and Malerman handles that with clear-headed sensitivity. Kit is a complex, winning character who I was rooting for from the beginning. In some ways, this is her coming-of-age story, and watching her dig deep, battle her anxiety, and find hidden reserves she didn’t know she had, is awe-inspiring. Malerman also excels at showing the easy interplay, the comaraderie, between the girls on the team.
Malerman talks about his love of basketball in the afterword (Yes, I read afterwords. In fact, I love them.), but I would have known that just from reading Daphne. His affection for the game is clear in the exciting game descriptions. The final, nerve-shredding showdown put me in mind of another one-on-one basketball game with similar high stakes—the one that caps Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians.
Put this one on your radar, and give it a pre-order. Daphne delivers.