Love is blind, we are often told. We hear as well about blind faith or being blinded by fear. From Greek mythology's Medusa to Jose Saramago's novel, BLINDNESS, vision --- or the lack thereof --- is a powerful metaphor in storytelling. Josh Malerman's debut, BIRD BOX, is a horror novel that plays with this theme, placing it in a nightmarish tale of survival.
It starts with bizarre and violent events in Russia. Malorie pays little attention to the news, but her sister, Shannon, becomes increasingly worried about the so-called “Russian Report.” By the time the incidents, senseless physical attacks ending in suicides, begin occurring in America, Malorie is distracted by her unplanned pregnancy. Three months later, the sisters are holed up in their house, fearing “the Problem” that is still not understood and claiming lives around the world. The only protection seems to be staying indoors, covering all windows so that the unknown entities driving people to insanity remain unseen. The threat remains elusive but dangerous nonetheless. Malorie loses Shannon after one peek outside and finds herself alone, pregnant and out of resources.
"Suspenseful and inventive, BIRD BOX, like other good scary books, asks readers to leave the rational behind in exchange for a thrilling tale and to face fears with eyes open wide."
So begins Malorie’s first journey as she travels in a car with the windows blacked out, to a house she hopes will be safe and welcoming. She comes to spend the next four years in the house that she first shares with a strong and wise man named Tom, another pregnant woman, Olympia, and a handful of others. Together they eek out a life with the stored food they have and water from an outside well. When a man named Gary arrives, he threatens their fragile security, and at the end of one horrific night, Malorie finds herself alone again. Or, almost alone; now she is a mother with two children to take care of.
BIRD BOX moves between time, from Malorie's current situation with Boy and Girl, to the events that led up to it. Malerman maneuvers smoothly back and forth, and the tension is nicely built. The second journey is a river ride Malorie takes with her children seeking safety and community, and the three of them must make it blind, relying only on the skills they have honed of hearing and intuition.
This is a novel with no clear resolution or answers. What it does have is a unique enemy, a compelling protagonist, a slow-burning sense of dread, and a knack for making the improbable believable. Malorie's life with Boy and Girl, and the training she gives them in order to escape the house and survive, make little sense if read too closely, but it works in the story as crafted by Malerman. With some familiar aspects from zombie and post-apocalyptic stories, the author manages to add some interesting twists of his own. Suspenseful and inventive, BIRD BOX, like other good scary books, asks readers to leave the rational behind in exchange for a thrilling tale and to face fears with eyes open wide.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 23, 2014