Book Review: Josh Malerman's 'Bird Box'

Mar 18, 2015

"Bird Box" by Josh Malerman scared the pants off me. Please don’t think I’m saying this lightly. While horror movies can terrify me for days, horror books rarely have the same punch for me. Usually, they feel predictable, formulaic, like something conjured from an old episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" minus the wit or surprises.  But "Bird Box" was different, and it was terrifying.

This Michigan Notable Book gave me literal nightmares. They got so bad that I couldn’t even read it at bedtime. This was difficult for me, since I couldn’t put the book down.  I had to know what was going to happen to the characters. It felt like their lives depended upon my turning the next page, and then the next.

In Malerman’s chilling debut, the world as we know it has come to an end. A mysterious, invisible terror has taken over the human race. It might be something in the air or a dangerous creature lurking in the shadow. Whatever it is, if you see it, you become crazed and violent. The few survivors left in the world have to spend their limited time outside blindfolded, slowly walking from place to place. They are never sure if a noise is just rustling leaves, or the approach of a monster or a deranged human.  Long days are spent hiding away in homes with windows covered by blankets, dialing random numbers from a phone book and longing for a human connection.

Our heroine in this chilling landscape is Malorie. The novel switches back and forth between her past and her present. When the terror first breaks out, Malorie escapes to a commune of other survivors. Each one has a sad tale to tell, and none have any hope for the future. They are terrified that any hour might be their last and they’re right. We know their end is coming because the second timeline we follow is Malorie’s present life. Only Malorie and her two small children are still in the safehouse. The only hint of what happened to the others are the ominous blood stains on the floors.

The book’s plot is full of horrifying surprises. Unlike many supposedly scary books, it’s never predictable or plodding.  The fact that Malerman never explains what happened to the world only heightens the terror and tragedy. In many ways, we are as blind as the characters. As they struggle to move around with their hands cautiously outstretched, we do the same bracing ourselves for the chilling twist on the next page. But what really makes this novel stand out from other apocalyptic tales, is that it isn’t about saving the world or mankind. It’s a much simpler, more personal story about mother trying to save her children.

If you enjoy horror, I highly recommend you head to the nearest book store and grab a copy of "Bird Box" by Josh Malerman. And maybe pick up a night light while you’re at it.

Scott Southard is the author of the new novel "Permanent Spring Showers" and "A Jane Austen Daydream". You can follow his writing via his blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.