Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review of "Bird Box" by Josh Malerman

Many people loved this book and gave it glowing 4 and 5 star reviews. That said, I don't share their enthusiasm.

As the story opens there are alarming news reports that people in Russia are becoming violent - killing themselves and others - for no apparent reason. The phenomenon soon spreads around the world, and it becomes clear that a glimpse of 'it' drives people insane - but no one (who's still alive) knows what 'it' is. People proceed to barricade themselves inside their homes, cover all the windows, and venture outside only with blindfolds on. At one point a character actually drives a car blindfolded, with all the windows blackened for good measure. (This stretches credulity just a tad.)

A few years after the phenomenon begins Malorie is living alone in a house with her two children, Boy and Girl, both 4-years-old. The mother has trained the children to cultivate their sense of hearing, which is now extremely acute. Malorie has had a plan since the kids were born, and one foggy day - when the danger of 'it' seeing them is reduced - she takes action. Malorie blindfolds herself and the 4-year-olds, and they all board a rowboat on a nearby river. Malorie then starts paddling downstream, relying on the children's hearing to detect danger.

The story alternates back and forth between the present - where the little family is traveling down the river, and the past - which details how Malorie got to this point.

In the past, when the craziness began, Malorie - who had just discovered she was pregnant - was living with her sister Shannon. After Shannon died, Malorie, having seen an advertisement in the newspaper about a 'safe house', plucked up her courage and made her way there. The house contained a small cadre of people who had a large supply of food, a nearby well, working electricity, a landline telephone.....and elaborate procedures to keep themselves safe. New people occasionally showed up at the house, which always caused anxiety because the newcomers might have seen 'it' or could be dangerous for other reasons.

In the present, Malorie and the kids are enduring a difficult journey. In addition to rowing in a physically weakened condition (having been stuck inside for years) Malorie has to deal with possible hazards on the river - like collisions, animals, and maybe 'it.'

Back in the past, Tom - who functions as the safe house's leader - undertakes various projects. He organizes an expedition to acquire and train 'seeing-eye' dogs; searches for food and medicine; makes endless phone calls to try to reach survivors (and leaves messages when he can); makes preparations for Malorie's soon-to-be-born baby; and so on.

In the book's sections set in the present, we slowly learn about Malorie's destination, what she must go through to get there (can you say wolf attack?), and what she finds when she arrives. Since Malorie and the children are alone as the story opens it's not a spoiler to say that - for one reason or another - the other house residents are no longer there when Malorie embarks on her trip. How this comes about is suspenseful and compelling.

This book is often described as a horror story - and there's certainly an undercurrent of dread that permeates the tale. However, I never felt very scared. I was more curious to find out what 'it' was, where 'it' came from, why 'it' was here, and possibly 'it's' ultimate fate. I never learned any of that, and was disappointed.

Moreover, this is one of those books that describes the action of the characters in minute detail (I'm paraphrasing here): Tom donned his blindfold; he opened the door; he listened for a moment; he took a step toward the well; he paused to sense whether 'it' was close by; he took another step toward the well; etc. I like the action to move along quickly so (to me) this kind of storytelling is tedious and not enjoyable. In addition, I never quite understood the ultimate goal of the human 'survivors.' I wanted to know what kind of future they hoped for or expected, but the author didn't elaborate on this. (Me.....I'd just throw in the towel if I had to live like these people.)

That said, I admire the author's imagination and his careful development of the stricken world he writes about.

Since so many people have praised this book I'd suggest that readers intrigued by the premise try it out - maybe get it from a traditional or online library (I borrowed it from Hoopla). You might love it too, and if you don' great loss.

Rating: 3 stars

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