Would you blind your children if it was the only way to save their lives? This is one of the many dilemmas faced by Malorie, the protagonist of Josh Malerman’s horror/sci-fi novel Bird Box.
Malorie finds out she’s pregnant as the world goes crazy. The reports of people going mad, killing those around them, and then killing themselves start in Russia and slowly spread until they reach the U.S. via Alaska. What the stories all share in common is that the people all saw something just before they go mad. No one knows what they saw, just that it brings on madness. Soon, people are covering the windows of their houses and are too scared to go outside.
Malorie finds a group of survivors who have banded together to learn how to survive in this new world. The narrative shifts back and forth from Malorie’s past with the group and her friendship with their unofficial leader, Tom, to the present where Malorie is taking advantage of a foggy day to row a boat blindfolded down a river with two children in hopes of finding a sanctuary. We see the rules Malorie has imposed that are cruel but also necessary to keeping her children alive. They include teaching them how to wake up with their eyes closed and blindfolding them and teaching them how to hear better than any person with vision.
We never learn what precisely is making people go mad, whether it’s aliens or interdimensional creatures. We never learn what their intentions are, if they make people crazy on purpose, are horrified by what happens to humans when they see them, or are indifferent. Malerman effectively taps into a vein of horror familiar to fans of H.P. Lovecraft (Without the racism). There’s the fear of the unknown and the fear of infinity.
My real complaint with the book is that it overreaches for its length. I got the Nook edition and it’s 148 pages. We don’t really get to see how Malorie evolves from a fairly normal young woman trying to survive impossible circumstances to this Ripley-esque woman who can row a boat blindfolded and fight wolves. The book could have been twice as long and wouldn’t have suffered. I really wish some of the characters had been fleshed out better because some of the survivors tended to blend together.
That being said, the book feels unbelievably tense and I had a very hard time putting it down. It’s one of the few recent books I’ve read that I wanted to reread immediately after I finished. Malerman is good at creating horror out of what should be the mundane. It’s scary every time one of the characters steps out of the house (blindfolded). There’s the inherent fear that every person with vision has of what they can’t see combined with the fact that there’s something unknown outside. It was very easy for me to put myself in the place of the survivors and wonder if I could survive something like this. It was a very personal horror for me since I’m an artist and rely on vision so much. My hearing isn’t great but I love to see and I’m not sure I’d want to live in a scenario where I couldn’t safely look at a place unless I was sure it was free of monsters. Losing my sight is a huge, personal fear for me.
There’s also the fear of what the madness drives people to do. There are several very memorable, very gory scenes. The reader gets the picture quickly about the effects of whatever is outside.
The book feels very contemporary in its treatment of how information spreads. The first reports of the madness are based on found footage. The madness starts to take up more and more time in the 24 hour news cycle until it’s all that’s discussed on the news. Then, there’s no news at all. You definitely feel this real thirst that the survivors have for information and a desperation to see if there are other survivors.
This book is worth reading but it could definitely be more expansive. I recommend it for fan of Lovecraft and H.G. Wells.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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