I recently read a book so good it made me mad. Like really, fully, fit-throwing mad. Just ask my husband; I didn’t shut up about it for days. Why? Mostly because it was just that good. Also because it’s strikingly similar to one of my (unpublished) novels, and that’s a really vicious kick in the pants for a writer, but I won’t go into that. (Hello, new comp title!) Mostly – and I’m being painfully honest here – I’m mad because this is the type of horror novel I love, that I want to write, and Josh Malerman got there first. And damned if he didn’t do it well. So what’s a girl to do? Well, I stewed in awe and jealousy for a couple of weeks and then decided that was a pretty good sign I should spread the word about this phenomenal book. So here I am saying unequivocally that Bird Box is the horror novel you should read next.
And by next, I mean right this very minute.
If you want the nice, pretty back cover copy you can view it here on Goodreads. The short version is this: some unexplained phenomenon has swept the world, but no one knows what it is, because looking at it causes people to go violently crazy, killing those around them and then themselves. So basically, the crux of the book – which in my opinion is also its supreme strength – is that we never know what the bad, scary thing is, because seeing it equals death. The survivors are inherently ignorant of what they’re up against, which means so is the reader.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman is the best specimen I’ve ever found to support my theory that the unseen/unknown is far scarier than any monster we could create. Imagination, my friends, is terrifying. Malerman utilizes that to brilliant perfection.
Our protagonist is Malorie, a young woman with two children who’s managed to survive the apocalypse so far by never looking outside. The story opens when Malorie decides to travel down the nearby river with the young kids – blindfolded. Since not looking is the only way to survive, they must traverse the new, unknown landscape with its many unnamed hazards and terrors blind. The book then alternates between present and past, explaining the beginnings of the phenomenon, how Malorie survived, and how she managed to raise two children alone, as well as recounting their perilous journey downriver to reach their destination.
Malerman deftly weaves the storylines together into one seamless, ever-building braid of tension. I happened to listen to this novel on audiobook (beautifully performed by Cassandra Campbell – I highly recommend this version if you like audio). Usually I only listen to audiobooks in the car or at work, but I found myself sitting outside in my oven of a car for half an hour to keep the story going. I turned it on for five minutes at a time whenever I had a spare moment because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I chose it over physical books and TV. That’s how sucked into Malerman’s world I was.
The novel isn’t perfect – no novel is – but for me it’s awfully close. It’s chock full of things I love. For one thing, it’s genuinely scary. One scene in particular had my heart absolutely racing, which is so hard to find. It’s wonderfully written with smooth, smart prose that never gets in the way but also isn’t boring. It’s subtle, understated horror that really crawls under your skin. It never relies on shock value, but it doesn’t pull its punches either. It’s gripping. It’s exquisitely original. It’s atmospheric and brave, and it absolutely makes my “favorites” list.
Mr. Malerman, if you haven’t already read this blog (because I mean, really, who doesn’t have a Google search for their name set up these days?), you can be expecting a fan letter from me any day now. And if I ever have the pleasure of meeting you in person I would like to hug you, kick your shin, shake your hand, and run away.
So, dear readers, have I convinced you? Bird Box should be high on your list. Unless you’re a scaredy cat, in which case you probably shouldn’t even pick it up. That shit’s got to have some fear osmosis embedded in it or something. Whew. 🙂
Have you read Bird Box yet? What’s the scariest novel you’ve read lately? I want to hear about it (but no spoilers, please!). [And if you dig this post, be sure to check out my other “Not Quite Book Reviews” in this category tag.]Share this: