Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Ecco Press, 2014, 272 pages
In Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, the people of America have been plagued with unseen creatures that, when viewed, cause the victim to go insane and inflict violence on others before killing themselves. When these creatures first arrive, Malorie soon discovers she is pregnant. It’s not long before she is convinced of the reality of these creatures, their existence and impact brought home by her sister’s grisly death. Malorie becomes a housemate at a small group of survivors and witnesses — and participates in — the various conflicts that come with dealing with this new world. In the present, Malorie endeavors to escape the house and make a perilous twenty-mile journey down the river where she’s been promised safety. But how do you navigate to a place you’ve never been without opening your eyes?
If you’d asked me before I read Bird Box if I liked horror novels, the answer would have been no. I tried Stephen King when I was in middle school (Pet Sematary, if you’re curious) and was bored to tears over it, so I figured horror just wasn’t my thing. While I’d read a few other things marketed as horror since (Asylum by Madeleine Roux, for example), nothing in literature really scared me. Plenty of people said they’d read books they couldn’t read at night they were so terrified by them — often listing Pet Sematary as their own example — and so I figured there was something wrong with me.
Bird Box did not keep me up for fear — but it did keep me up for wanting to read more. Though I don’t have a lot to compare it to (see the previous paragraph), Bird Box feels painfully original and Malerman does an astounding job at creating tension and a weird sense of slow urgency in the context of his highly inventive plot. As the reader moves between Malorie’s present and past, the question remains until the end as to whether or not she and the two children she brings with her will survive and thrive.
Though Malorie begins as one of the more blase characters when it comes to the existence of the creatures at the beginning of the novel, she is easily one of the most neurotic about surviving them by the end. It’s this character development that pushes Malerman’s novel to the top. Originally somewhat self-absorbed and, aside from her pregnancy, fairly lighthearted, Malorie ends up a nervous wreck who is specific, demanding, harsh, and tense. She names the children Boy and Girl, fully aware of how futile it seems to give “real” names to children who don’t live in a “real” world and may not survive the day. Meanwhile, deceit and alliances create fascinating relationships throughout the novel with a manageable size of a cast. Seemingly small choices, like the lack of names for the children, indicate in very powerful ways the mental states of the characters and Malerman manages each character fantastically this way.
Malerman doesn’t push the gore too much in the novel. This means when he does describe scenes of carnage, it’s especially effective. Malerman is sometimes restricted by perspective of his characters who are often forced to keep their eyes closed, but he uses this again to his advantage, creating suspense much like the lack of visual on the famed Jaws creates dread in Jaws.
Even if you’re not a fan of horrors or thrillers, Bird Box may be well worth a shot. On top of being fantastically exciting in the most dreadful way, the novel poses fascinating questions and is an impressive exercise of the senses. Fun and smart, the novel doesn’t take too long to read — no matter how I tried to pace myself, I just couldn’t. And once you’ve finished Bird Box, you can look forward to Malerman’s spring publication, Unbury Carol.
❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤