By Josh Malerman
Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?
Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.
“It feels like a cage was lowered over them all. A cardboard box. A bird box. Blocking out the sun forever.”
-Josh Malerman, Bird Box
Wrap your head around the concept of a world that was once ours and has now been completely altered forever. Changed by a presence that once seen, you will never live to tell about. This is exactly the world that Malorie awakes to find herself in. She doesn’t realize things have went to shit immediately. She is preoccupied with the life growing inside of her. A child created from a one night stand with a man she knows will never really be a father or part of her life. But as she contemplates her own personal dilemma, everything is changing. The entire Earth is changing.
It happens slowly at first. A death here, a death there. The news broadcasts and radio stations slowly fill with reports of normal people committing completely abnormal and heinous acts. Bouts of insanity resulting in individuals, couples and even children taking their own lives, but not before hurting or attacking anyone near them. Then it really begins. A single connection is made. Each victim shares one common factor that is about to alter all that humanity has ever known. They have all seen something before they died. But what they have seen will never be known, as none have lived to speak about it.
A pandemic ensues as curfews are initially instated and before long, humankind ceases to function in any normal way. Hidden behind locked doors and covered windows, survival now depends on never seeing what lies just beyond. The only way to navigate this new world is behind closed eyes. Blindness is safety. Blindness is survival.
“The moment between deciding to open your eyes and then actually doing it is as scary a thing as there is in the new world.”
-Josh Malerman, Bird Box
If I had to sum up Bird Box in one word, it would be “terrifying“. Terror is exactly and simply what this novel delivers. Malerman has transcended the traditional ideals and perils of dystopian and post apocalyptic life, painting a new form of horror. A threat that cannot and must be seen and breeds a uniquely raw, brutal fear in the form of the unknown. Sometimes not knowing is worse than one can ever imagine.
Serving up intricately alternating slices of past and present narration in a manner that consistently leaves you guessing, doubting and begging for more, we are presented with the story of Malorie as she attempts to navigate this new world. She finds herself with several housemates who have banded together for survival. The character building is straightforward and somewhat simplistic, but it works so well in Bird Box, because the real winning element is the uncertainty. That edge of your seat, continuous doubt and questioning is what drives this novel and propels you forward, page after page.
The world building is amazingly complex in the most ingenious of ways. Constructed purely of foreboding and apprehensive energy, I found myself unable to stop. This fear fueled environment of “what ifs” and “what is its” that is the backbone of Bird Box. A tense read that lingers long after the last page is read. Equivalent to no other novel of its kind, this is what true terror feels like, and it is tangible.
“You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead.”
― Josh Malerman,
Elegantly written, with perfectly timed transitions in narration, accompanied by vividly grisly details, Bird Box is a rewarding read that continually delivers fast and hard. While I found the ending less desirable than the rest of my experience with the novel, I still cannot pose any valid argument as to why it doesn’t work, because it does. I think I was personally wanting or expecting something that was unrealistic, and I admire the author’s decision to forgo anything less fitting.
If you are seeking something fast paced that wastes no time drawing you in and refuses to let go long after, this is the one. Fans of horror, thrillers and post apocalyptic reads alike will find great appreciation within.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2