Bird Box by Josh Malerman, is a powerful, elegantly written story that absolutely enthralled me.
The genius of this book is the fact that it focuses with sharp laser light on one singular story of survival, perseverance and terror.
I loved the singular focus, because it was impossible to take my eyes off the page (this sentence is a reference to something you’ll find interesting in a heartbeat here).
Imagine that there’s something in the world that causes utter insanity and homicidal mania in anyone who sees it. Where this thing came from, or why it exists does not matter. The facts of this story are that it DOES EXIST, and that if you open your eyes around it, you’re lost forever.
Given that intriguing scenario, there are a really interesting set of writing choices. First of all, the greatest temptation is to EXPLAIN and to explain what the heck is happening and why it is happening and allow the characters to make sense of it all.
Wisely, Malerman entirely avoids that deceptively saccharine and simplistic choice. He doesn’t explain. This is right in line with what I think about good fantasy and horror — the best story comes from withholding everything you can. Never explain. Josh Malerman doesn’t explain anything at all and his story is the more powerful for it.
He just allows his story to unfold, and what a shocking, provocative and mind-rending story it is indeed.
The story opens with Malorie and her two young children deciding to escape from the place she has been living for the past five years. Her very young children (who are almost never called anything else than Boy and Girl) have been raised with every precaution of seeing anything that is outside, and with all the rules in place, she decides to leave. It is a very perilous journey, because she won’t be able to see anything, and she has no idea what the world outside even looks like anymore!
This terrifying journey is intercut with the past story of how the world got to this horrific pass and how she once had friends and that all fell apart.
The way Malerman intercuts between the two storylines is masterfully done — I’ve almost never seen it done better in any book.
It is, in essence, a very simple story: survive.
And because it is a story of survival, it is, in the end, what one might call a horror novel. But a profoundly well-written and intriguing horror novel that haunts one for months afterwards.
I highly recommend BIRD BOX. It’s a beautiful, terrible story.