Last night, I finished reading Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and all I can say is…Damn. Just, damn.
A little about myself, in regards to horror fiction. I grew up reading the classics: H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Bloch, and others from that era. Contemporary horror fiction, save for a small handful of books or stories, was largely unfamiliar to me. The few new stories I did read, for the most part I didn’t like. The one exception when I was a child was Stephen King. I loved the stories in Night Shift.
In the eighties and nineties, I did read several novels by Robert R. McCammon, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and F. Paul Wilson, and I enjoyed them, but that was it for new stuff. The opinion that nothing much compared with the classics stayed with me, and except for those three authors, I remained cut off from the contemporary scene.
Fast forward to 2010. A friend at work recommended two books to me, and after repeatedly being urged to read them, I bought Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia and Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. I was blown away by both novels, and from then till now, I’ve bought the latest books in both the MHI and Joe Ledger series as fast as they’ve been released. Those novels opened the door to a world of fiction I was largely unfamiliar with. As time went by, I began exploring the works of other authors and loved the treasures I was finding.
Now, it’s 2018, and I have a TBR list of over 200 horror novels and anthologies. And the list is growing. I can’t believe I closed myself off to so many awesome stories and authors, and there’s a lot of catching up to do.
One such author I sadly only recently learned about is Josh Malerman. His name and his books were brought to my attention, thanks to the Three Guys With Beards podcast a couple of months ago, and I added Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel to my reading list. After seeing ads for the upcoming film version of Bird Box on Netflix, I bought a copy of the book for Kindle and began reading it this week. To be precise, I started the book on Tuesday night, and I was finished with it on Wednesday, shortly after dinner.
As I said at the beginning of this review, damn. Where the hell was I in 2014, when the book first arrived on the scene?
Bird Box follows the tale of Malorie, a woman living in a house with two children, named Boy and Girl. They are completely cut off from the outside world. All the windows of the house are covered over, and when necessity requires that one or more of them have to exit the house for food or water, they do so blindfolded. Something lurks out there, something that even the barest glimpse of drives the viewer to insanity and death.
The tale begins with Malorie making the decision to leave with the two children and make a journey down river to a slim hope of safety. As they make their voyage, they become aware that something is following them, something they dare not see. They can only rely on their hearing to guide them on their journey. The book then alternates between their journey and flashbacks of Malorie’s life and experiences with other survivors.
I found myself riveted by Malerman’s storytelling ability. From the opening line till the climax, I could barely stand to put the book down. If my day job and other duties hadn’t intervened, I would have finished sometime Wednesday morning. I found myself looking forward to break and lunchtime so I could get some more reading in.
Every so often, I’ll read a book where I’ll read a chapter or two, put it down, and though I’m interested in the story, it’s okay if I leave the book on my nightstand for a few days before picking it back up again. Not so with Bird Box. I had to stop myself several times from reading too quickly. The growing tension and sense of dread instilled a desire to push forward breathlessly to see what would happen next, and I had to force myself to slow down so I wouldn’t miss anything in my rush to get to the climax. It’s a rare book that does that to me.
One part that kept me glued to the page (actually, screen, since I tend to buy most of my books on Kindle), was near the end, when Malorie and the children were arriving at their destination. The terror they felt as they sat there in their boat, listening to the broadcast up ahead and knowing that one of the monsters responsible for the ‘apocalypse’ was there in the river, next to them, clutched me in its icy grasp as well. As the creature reached down and slowly started to pull Malorie’s blindfold off, the real world around me, as far as I was concerned, was nonexistent. All that mattered was the tale and what would happen next.
The only regret I had about purchasing and reading Bird Box, was that I didn’t read it years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. It’s an intense, gripping read that is now on my list of top ten favorite horror novels, next to works like It, The Wolf’s Hour, Twilight Eyes, and Ghost Road Blues. I highly recommend it. If, like me, you’re unfamiliar with the newer authors out there like Malerman, you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Bird Box first chance you get. What are you waiting for?