What would you do if there was danger lurking near you and all you had to do to be hurt by it is to see it with your own eyes? If you were to go outside and come in visible contact with this danger, you would instantly go mad. You would lose your senses and after maybe acting out violently towards others, you would then be inclined to take your own life. Would you not go outside? Would you cover your eyes? Would you remove your eyes? In a world where the dangers of the unknown plague you at every moment, how does it affect how you see the dangers right in front of you? Are you trusting? Are you a loner? Is life even worth living if there’s a good chance you’ll just end up insane and suicidal? This is the world that a young woman named Malorie finds herself in within the pages of Bird Box, a new novel by Josh Malerman. Set against a Dystopian backdrop where society has crumbled, the story is a nail-biting thriller that’s equal parts creepy horror and an examination of the human condition. Playing with your fears and emotions at just the right times, Bird Box is a book that will make you be afraid to go outside….in the daytime!
It’s been five years since the phenomenon began. It started in Russia, but soon there were incidents reported all over the world of people losing control and enacting great displays of violence before killing themselves in an equally violent matter. The cause was unclear at first, but folks started to avoid going outside as this was the common connector between the incidents. Soon, it was surmised that each of the victims of this madness saw something (or someone) before losing their minds. What exactly, could not be explained and because of this, there was no way to avoid seeing it. How can you avoid something if you don’t have a description of what it looks like. People just stopped going outside. They covered their windows. Society as we know it ceased to be. The survivors of this new world would have to be very careful when venturing out for food, water, necessities. Malorie, one of these survivors has trained her two young children to look with their ears instead of their eyes. Leaving the abandoned house they’ve been squating in for some time, they need to make the journey of their lives up the river to a place where possible sanctuary awaits. Through a series of flashbacks, we see how the world slowly descended into madness from the appearance of this danger and how Malorie made it with the help of a group of survivors whose story is a harrowing one. The choices made in this new world hinge on life and death. Only one thing is certain about the outside: don’t open your eyes.
The main idea of the world as we know it being destroyed by a mindless or unknown threat is nothing new in the world of horror and science fiction. Television, books, movies and comics are produced on a regular basis that explore phenomenon such as this. The Walking Dead, for example, is currently both a popular comic and t.v. show. But zombies, war, natural disasters, alien invasions – these are all things that are easy for the mind to conceive. What if the danger couldn’t really be explained? That’s what makes Bird Box so interesting. The driving force behind the fear the characters share is one that cannot be fully revealed to the reader. We’re left with creating the danger within our own minds. There are hints giving slight explinations of the creatures that have taken up residence. But that’s it. They manifest in our imagination as we see them. Whatever makes us most frightened is what we see when we read this book. But that’s just one of the fears that drives the story. Like the aforementioned Walking Dead and any other good horror or thriller, Bird Box doesn’t put all its eggs in one basket. The real antagonists of the tale are human beings themselves. In this new world, who do you trust? Who can you trust? Close quarters and hightened tension do not bring out the best in people. There are times when the devil you know is the safer bet but that’s not always the case in this novel. Struggling to survive and risking working together will sometimes bring the best results but it also leaves you open to be taken advantage of. Trust, loyalty, faith, all are put to the test for Malorie and the housemates who are seeing her through her pregnancy.
The character of Malorie is an interesting one as she’s not your typical protagonist. She’s not a leader. She’s not a hunter/gatherer type. She’s someone who’s been rocked by these new predicaments and if left alone, might not make it through that first year. Over the course of time, she must learn to help herself and grow as a person. This growth is juxaposed with her beginnings as we jump back and forth in time regularly throughout the novel. It brings an interesting dynamic as facets of her personality are introduced in the “present” before their origin is explained in the “past”. It gives an the interesting effect of the reader knowing things about the narrator before she knows herself, even though she’s the one that told us. In the end, she’s presented as a well developed character with her back story fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle in our minds. The other survivors in the story are equally fleshed out, however coloured by Malorie’s narration. I found myself very trustworthy of Tom, the defacto leader of the group, mainly because Malorie trusted him. Alternatively, I didn’t much care for the skeptical and over-protective Don, who rubs Malorie the wrong way from the start. A variety of characters are presented and each have their own unique voice, something that’s very important when most of the tale takes place in one location.
After reading this book, I can honestly say that I am jealous of Josh Malerman. Not only does he have a successful music career with his band High Strung, he’s also written a thrilling and suspensful novel that’s character driven and legimately scary. Some guys have too much damn talent! If you’re looking for a good read, be sure to pick up Bird Box when it hits book stores on May 13th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!