Bird Box

January 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

boxBird Box by Josh Malerman

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So many books, so many different ways to hear about them. I have so many now that I can’t remember how Bird Box came to my attention. A friend of mine recently asked how it was I hadn’t actually read this one yet, so I bumped it up my list, and I’m glad I did. This is an outstanding book in a lot of ways.

The premise is a good one: Something has happened in the world, and it drives people to kill other people and then themselves. It’s somehow tied to something people see, so in response to the threat, people learn to live inside, with their doors closed and their windows covered. When they do have to venture outside, they do so with their eyes closed, or blindfolded. The story opens on Malorie, a mother of two four-year-olds who finds herself having to go outside to save herself and her children.

Malerman sets the tone of this story immediately, in the first chapter. Aside from capturing the mood and the atmosphere of this kind of story, he also puts the reader immediately off balance by making his readers pay attention to understand the setting and the characters. He doesn’t explain it all immediately; instead, he introduces to Malorie and then tells us her story through (mostly) alternating chapters between the present and past. He tells us this story in a style that uses short, sharp sentences, in the present tense. It creates a feeling of immediacy, and keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace.

Bird Box has shadows of The Road, in that they’re both about parents trying to protect their children in a bleak, desolate world. They’re hardly similar, though, since Malorie’s approach to parenthood is so different from the father in The Road. She uses fear and pain to reinforce the lessons she has to teach her children, making her either the worst or best mother in the world. Her methods are harrowing, but so is the world they live in, and she does it all in an effort to protect the children. We may not agree with what she does to raise them, but we at least understand why she does it.

Like most post-apocalyptic horror, Bird Box focuses on who the real monsters are in situations like these: the survivors. It’s a common theme, and while it works, it’s somewhat tired. I don’t fault the author (we are, after all, the worst monsters because we choose to be horrible to each other instead of it just being our nature), but I would like to see a story in this genre take a different approach. How Malerman approaches the human monster in his story works well, even if the way he sets it up is a bit clunky.

The ending is also a bit clunky, partly because Malerman attempts to inject some hope into his story at the end. It doesn’t come easy for Malorie, but it feels like everything is wrapped up too neatly for this kind of story. I can appreciate it for being the breath we take at the end of a long swim upstream, but it’s at odds with the tone of the rest of the story. I would have preferred more ambiguity, a hint at the hope to come instead of the full-on happy (-ish) ending we get here. If it had ended before Malorie had all of her questions answered, it would have been a more effective ending.

Those issues aside, though, this is a novel that works remarkably well. It conveys a mood like few other books I’ve read, and it maintains a taut tension from beginning to end. Fans of horror in general should like it, but I would also recommend it to readers who enjoyed The Road. They’re different in lots of ways, but their similarities can’t be denied.

Started: September 29, 2017
Finished: October 10, 2017

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Fletcher said,

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