Bird Box by Josh Malerman (@JoshMalerman)

I’m not sure exactly what made me put this on my holds list at the library. It was probably something on Goodreads – this happens a lot. I know I was attracted to the name. It’s so ambiguous. Whatever it was, I’m glad I decided to read it. I’m not normally a horror novel person. Mystery/thriller – yes. Horror – not so much. It’s often such a letdown or the writing is just cheesy. Such is not the case with Malerman’s debut novel. This is one of those books that sucks you in from the very first chapter. It perfectly balances time shifting and tension. It is excellent.

Malorie and her twins are planning to leave their house – where they live completely alone – to get to some unknown destination. All we know is that they have to do it blindfolded and Melanie is terrified. For real, try closing your eyes and moving around your home for just a little while and then picture trying to do the same thing for like twenty miles, in a row boat, on a river, and knowing that if you open your eyes for even a second, you will most likely die. Terrifying!

But in the next chapter we bounce back through time to when Malorie finds out she’s pregnant and goes to live in the same house with a group of other survivors. We follow the two stories simultaneously – one ending with how we got to the beginning of the book. Even though I knew that she eventually ends up alone, I still couldn’t wait to find out how she went from a house full of people to no one. Would it happen slowly or all at once? What were they going to do with two pregnant women in the house and no doctors? How would they figure out Malorie was having twins when even she didn’t know?

Then there’s the actually mystery. What is happening to people? What is driving them to murder those around them and then themselves? What kind of infection could it be? I needed to know! I devoured this book. Now, this part – the horror part of the book – might actually piss some people off. We never get to find out what these creatures are. Malorie never sees one. So she is never able to describe one. This is good! These things make people insane on sight. It’s nice not to have an author use some kind of immunity trope to keep the heroine alive. The only person who’s ever able to say that they’ve seen one is Gary. He claims to have seen dozens of them. He answers the question of what happens when someone who is already mentally unstable sees something that triggers the same response. Gary is a loon – so lost in his own delusions that the creatures don’t have any effect on him. This is all discovered during the birthing scene, so no time to ask questions about anything as frivolous as appearance. The closest thing we get is Olympia’s awed reaction.

I, for one, like this strategy. Now the creatures can look exactly how I imagine they might. In my head, they are ethereal and creepy all at the same time. I can picture what scares me. All too often when the big bad is finally revealed, it turns out to be not so scary. The imagination is the creepiest place to live – and Malerman lets us do just that. There are no tricks. This world doesn’t get better. She doesn’t end up in Utopia. Malorie survives because she is smart and dedicated and a little cruel. She raises her son and Olympia’s daughter (ah, twins explained) to fear sight and hone their hearing. She doesn’t name them so she doesn’t have to become connected.

The story is well crafted. There is no romance to fill the space. Several chapters include no one but Malorie and Boy and Girl. She must carry the story alone, even as she’s starting to lose her mind. Not I’ve seen a creature crazy, but I can’t use all my senses and I think I’m going to die and I haven’t spoken to another grown up in four years crazy. The long and the short of it is that there isn’t actually much to this story, but somehow, that’s what makes it great. It doesn’t get bogged down in too much detail and overwriting or trying to be the next super big scary.

Here’s my one problem with the book. I’ve read part of it before. Specifically Chapters 34 and 37. Not this seems familiar déjà vu but I have absolutely read this before. I know what’s going to happen. And only these two chapters. I have no idea why or how, but I know that I have read these chapters before. I don’t know if Malerman used one of the writer websites I use and I read a couple chapters that way, or if I stumbled across his website. I don’t know, but I do know that I have read them before. That feeling added to the already unsettling feeling of the novel made it a real page turner.

If you’re looking for something to read on a dark and stormy night, this one’s a winner.

 

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