Bird Box by Josh Malerman, Review by Corinne Donnelly
The post-apocalypse genre saturates so much of pop culture these days that I try my best to avoid it whenever I can. Color me surprised when I picked up Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, expecting more of the same, and discovered that post-apocalyptic novels are not quite dead yet. Malerman’s debut tells the story of Malorie, Boy, and Girl, an unconventional family living in a world where using one’s sight has become dangerous, and too often leads to horrific acts of violence, murder, and eventually, suicide. The novel shifts between past and present, providing glimpses into Malorie’s life before and after the world started to unravel.
Malerman provides just the right amount of background information to compel the reader from the very start. He also withholds information brilliantly, as he establishes the haunting atmosphere, pulls you into the mystery behind the sudden acts of violence, and then leaves you wondering who or what could be causing so much chaos and death. The time shifts are also written in such a way that the reader is aware of an absence or is wary of a character, but they don’t yet know why. Putting the pieces together will become a desperate need, but Malerman only gives out information when he feels it is the right time. The anticipation is a killer.
Malorie desperately attempts to bond to her children in the present and her housemates in the past, but struggles immensely, as she has already lost so much and cannot fathom more death and isolation. While her thoughts dominate much of the narrative, important deviations to the minds of the other members of the household emphasize their similarities and differences. Everyone in the house has seen terrible things and they all have a common motivation, but they want to approach the solution in different ways. This tension and distrust causes much of the conflict in the house, and often makes the reader wonder whether living in the house is as safe as everyone seems to think.
What makes Bird Box so unique is that it relies heavily on the reader’s imagination. The people in the house must use blindfolds whenever they venture outdoors to fetch water or to make a supply run. Hearing, touch, and smell become imperative to their survival, and when strange objects, sounds, or odors appear, the mind jumps to the worst conclusions. Large portions of the novel focus on journeys outdoors, and these sections are the most nerve-wracking of all. Nobody knows what lurks around the corner, and most of the time, they will never find out.
Such a fast-paced and unpredictable novel begs for a marathon read. Bird Box by Josh Malerman will make you question your sanity and redefine your sense of humanity. It may also give you nightmares for weeks to come. In other words, it’s the perfect Halloween read.