Imagine, if you will, being suddenly blinded and forced to navigate the world while protecting your two young children, all while unseen monsters stalk you.
Thus is the premise of Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box. The plot jumps around in time with some chapters taking place several years in the past, when reports of strange and disturbing events in Russia begin filtering onto U.S. news channels. Something that people are seeing is making them lose their minds, causing them to murder people and/or commit suicide en masse. Since no one survives seeing whatever is causing the phenomenon, there is no information on what it/they is/are, whether it’s creatures, some sort of biological agent, etc.
In the chapters that focus on the beginnings, our main character, Malorie, is just moving in with her sister and discovering her unexpected pregnancy. The bulk of the chapters take place a few months later, when pregnant Malorie is living in a house with other “survivors,” forced to stay indoors at all times with all windows covered lest any of them see whatever it is that’s causing people to go insane. The rest of the chapters take place four years later, when Malorie is now alone save for her two children. They are escaping the house she once shared with the other survivors and taking a boat ride, all while blindfolded, down a river toward an unknown destination.
This book is a refreshing and thrilling addition to the “apocalypse” genre. It doesn’t fall back on clichés (although it skirts with it by having one of the housemates in the middle-time chapters fall into the “uncooperative/immoral jerk” role) and we don’t spend time detailing the destruction of society in the early chapters (by now we all know how that plays out, right?) And the “monsters” are the ultimate scary creatures from your childhood closet—unseen, all-powerful, unstoppable and capable of causing tremendous violence.
That’s what makes this book so effectively chilling—all the characters are forced to face the world blindfolded, so the reader is blinded as well. We’re all just stumbling around in the dark waiting for something to hit us in the face, something to trip us, an animal to attack us, or, worse of all, something to reach out and gently caress us on the cheek.
A definite must-read for anyone looking for a thrill or a scare. Not recommended for reading before bed. I’m excited to see what Malerman publishes next!