Bird Box, Josh Malerman: Book Review

bird box josh malerman book review
Bird Box Book Cover Bird Box
Josh Malerman
Thriller, Mystery
Ecco
May 13, 2014
Hardcover
262

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it's time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat--blindfolded--with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

Josh Malerman builds Bird Box with a page-turning stamina of that of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, which made this book all the more amazing and unputdownable. Stuffing clues into his chapters, underlined with intense knowing then unknowing, Malerman impresses with his peculiar approach to unpacking the fear and suspense in this incredible thriller. As writers, we’re always told to show instead of telling our readers, but that is impossible in this scary, seemingly post-apocalyptic world Malerman has trapped his readers in.

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Set in an unnamed Michigan city (whoop whoop!), whose inhabitants must blind themselves or die from whoever or whatever It is that’s driving citizens to kill one other as well as themselves whenever they see It. For this to be my last real attempt at reading mystery-thriller-esque stories after trudging through the mucky omniscient mess that was Evie Wyld‘s All the Birds, Singing last year, this book restored my faith in the genre two-fold. I don’t even know if my words will do this book justice for how amazingly well-written, well-plotted and well-fashioned it is. And to know that this was written by a fellow Michigander made the reading experience that more gratifying.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about this genre, it’s that even the best writers seem to struggle with pacing their stories. Flynn — a well-known favorite of mines — is guilty of stretching every detail until it’s completely frayed. It is very challenging for thriller writers, I’ve learned, not to overdraw on details and for them to get to the point. Malerman, on the other hand, owns it effortlessly — no, he thrives in it! The pacing of this book is swift, descriptive (enough) and succinct; these are the conditions of a formidable writer.

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Bird Box, which follows a woman, Malorie, who adopts two children as her own in the wake of sudden homicidal and suicidal outbreaks brought on by the bare sight of, well, we don’t know. Everything is black with this book — the world Malorie once knew about the world she lives in has changed, and survival becomes instinct as she journeys through the literal unknown world before her in search of haven.

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While I loved this book, I do have a small bit of constructive criticism, if I may: I did feel like there were moments within this book where Malerman’s work was quick, but sometimes too quick. There were instances when I felt like the stream of consciousness writing was becoming a burden; the use of repetition, draining; and the lack of clarity, concerning. The shift in perspective — between omniscient narrator to Malorie — was muddled and perplexing at times. I couldn’t always tell whose thoughts belonged to whom and it bothered me, but clearly not as much seeing as I’ve given the book four stars.

Malerman taps into man’s primal fight or flight instinct with Bird Box so well you won’t be able to sleep at night. Fear naturally beacons us to run like hell, but you never know how much that fear can be amplified when you’re unable to use one of your cardinal senses and have no idea who it is or what it is you’re running away from exactly. Should you be afraid? Is it safe, yet? This book’s cut-to-the-chase cadence will have you up throughout the night. Not to mention the author does an exceptional job with his prose writing as well.

I’ve heard rumors that Bird Box has been optioned for film and I would LOVE to see how that plays out. This was such a fun and exciting read, I can only imagine how intense it would be on-screen.


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Written by Paris Close

Paris Close

Editor-in-chief at Paperback Paris. Saving myself for Andy Cohen. Give me Gillian Flynn, or give me death.