161 Bird Box

by Josh Malerman, 2014

I’m not much of a horror genre reader, but I was intrigued when I heard so many people talking about Bird Box. Set in a world where mysterious creatures roam the earth, one must give up the sense of sight in order to stay sane. No one knows what the creatures are or what they look like, for every person who has set eyes on them has been driven mad, resulting in their violent end. We enter the story some four years after reports of gruesome attacks and ghastly suicides start flooding the news. The day has come when Malorie and her two children, known only as Boy and Girl, must leave their barricaded house and venture out into the world. It is a story as much about the breakdown of society and the lengths one would go to survive as it is about the suspense surrounding these horrific creatures.

The story switches back and forth between two timelines. In one we follow present-day Malorie as she musters up the courage to leave the house. Her goal is to make it to a boat where she will row down a river, blindfolded, hoping to make it to a recording that has promised to lead her to safety. She has trained the children’s aural abilities well – they can tell what page she’s landed on when she flips through a book and can determine her facial expression when she speaks – and she relies on them to alert her to any sounds of danger. Not knowing what these creatures look like or sound like, all must remain blindfolded and any sound could indicate the presence of a sinister being. Their passage down the river is as harrowing as can be imagined.

Interspersed with this journey is the story of before: before the creatures claimed dominion over the world, before people began gnawing on their neighbors and stabbing themselves with scissors. Some of the greatest tension in this book comes from the discrepancies between the before and the now. We meet Malorie when she is living with her sister, when she has just realized that she is pregnant, yet we know that four years later she is living alone, caring for two children, in a house stained by blood. I won’t describe any more of this, other than to say that Malerman effectively builds up the suspense by revealing, little by little, the events Malorie experiences. For much of the time we only know that how things were are not how things are, but we do not know what transpired to make this so.

This is one of the rare instances where I found myself putting aside everything else I was reading so I could race to the story’s end. This does not happen often for me, especially with a genre I don’t typically read, so it’s a credit to Malerman’s writing that I simply had to find out what would happen to Malorie. The end may have ultimately been a bit unsatisfying, but I enjoyed the process of reading it so much that I can’t discredit it too muchfor that. Any book that makes me audibly gasp while reading in public – it was an unexpected the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house!-type moment – has clearly done something right.

*I regret that my library did not have this available on audio! Now that I’ve acclimated to listening to audiobooks, I’m certain that the structure and subject matter of this book would make for an excellent listening experience. Additionally, I learned from the Book Riot podcast that this is being made into a movie with Sandra Bullock. I’m not sure how great this will be as a movie experience – there is so much in the story we don’t see – but you can bet I’ll watch it just the same.

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