Bird Box – Josh Malerman, 2014.
An unusual apocalypse has blinded the world.
The bizarre reports start in Russia and then move to the US. Something is outside. If you see it, you go violently mad and kill yourself. Society has collapsed. Few if any survivors exist, and those few are trapped inside with their windows tightly covered.
For years, Malorie has lived alone with the children, Boy and Girl, blindfolding herself and going outside only for necessities. She has trained the children with blindfolds since their birth to hone their sense of hearing. One morning a masking fog comes, and Malorie risks everything for the faint promise of a better life. Eyes closed and covered, they make their way to the river and a rowboat, beginning a journey of hope – and terror. Because something is following them.
Bird Box is simply brilliant. Malerman has a tight rein on the narrative, keeping the tension almost unbearable for the reader. He drops plot revelations like little firecrackers that jolt the jumpy reader’s sensibility. This is a book you can’t look away from.
The story follows two timelines: in the immediate present, we are on the boat with Malorie and the kids, almost viscerally sharing their panic on the open river. We are as blind as Malorie. This thread alternates with Malorie’s memories – also in present tense – that fill in the years up to this point.
Malorie discovers she is pregnant just as the first reports of the macabre deaths surface. As civilization collapses around her, she makes a solitary trip to a safe house where she meets a small group of people who become her roommates. Personalities mesh well and Malorie bonds with Tom, the optimist who is trying to find a way to live in the changed times and improve the housemates’ situation. Things are as good as they can be until a newcomer, Gary, creates a subtle, increasing divide in loyalties that culminates in the unthinkable.
The reader experiences the same psychological anxiety as the characters. No one knows what the “creatures” are that must not be seen. Or could the ensuing madness be self-fulfilling? Is “man the creature he fears?” Malerman creates an atmosphere of claustrophobic apprehension. His writing is spare, but paints a rich picture for the imagination. Bird Box tears on to powerful finishes in both storylines. Don’t miss this one. You will not be disappointed.