The Critique Circle Public Library

Bird Box: A Novel
by Josh Malerman
Amazon rating
Critique Circle rating 
Release Date2014-05-13 (added to CC 17 Oct 2014)
Amazon Sales Rank34,648

Written with the narrative tension of The Road and the exquisite terror of classic Stephen King, Bird Box is a propulsive, edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, set in an apocalyptic near-future world—a masterpiece of suspense from the brilliantly imaginative Josh Malerman.

Something is out there . . .

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse 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 remain, 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 is 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. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman’s breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

Member Reviews
(13 Mar)
(17 Oct 2014)
I'm not sure why this is an Editor's Choice, but to each their own.

Well written? No, not to me. This novel suffers from a rudimentary style, and an one-dimensional, unlikable protagonist.

I never felt connected to Malorie because the author never let me. Always the constant barrage of narrator intrusions, i.e., Malorie thinks, Malorie, feels, Malorie wondered - all distanced me from the character. I was constantly TOLD never SHOWED how Malorie felt, and this created distance. I should have been relating to Malorie, her plight and helplessness, but I never connected because the author was too busy telling me how to perceive Malorie, rather than let me make that decision for myself.

And then Malorie's observations were lackluster. How many times can the narrator say "he looks sad?" or "he looks like he's in shock", or "he looks happy"? And all these "looks", and often in the same paragraph. What, can the author not describe emotions? It seemed lazy, like the author's dialogue tags: "Malorie said facetiously". Dude, really? This is one of the worst uses of an adverb paired with said that I think I've ever seen. And emotions...SHOW what happy looks like, be specific. Give body language, expressions. Give me something to connect with these characters, not some narrator insert for the description.

All I gathered from any description in this book is vague generalities - and that's not because of the blindfolds.

The author could have been so much more imaginative with the sounds. So much more. And the implausibility of Malorie's trip - blindfolded, down a river - was too much to suspend my disbelief. Coupled with the end, which was a genuine WTF? moment, I had a book I regretted purchasing...even if on sale.

The reason for the three stars are the creatures, pacing, and overall concept. Though the creatures invoked menace and threat, their actions made me question their motivations. Why would an intelligent race, multidimensional or not, continue to appear to humans when they KNEW the humans would kill others or themselves? So I considered maybe they aren't that intelligent...but that doesn't correlate with some of their actions. Lifting the blindfold of Malorie, then deliberately staying behind her....that isn't something a stupid being does. Or one intent on murdering the human race. I don't get it, and there's no explanation, or even a hint of why they around, or what their intentions are.

But some key scenes were memorable: the birds going mad on the river, and the unfortunate turn of events with the housemates. Even with the narrator intrusion and lackluster descriptions or lack of emotional connection with the protagonist, those scenes had tension and an overall eerie quality to them. Those were well done and why again...I'm giving this book three stars instead of one.

In the acknowledgements, I expected some hint that the author might have put a blindfold on and tried to experience the world as Malorie had, but....nothing.

Write what you know may be cliche, but if I was writing a book that required my protagonist to row down a river blind-folded, I would have tried doing it myself to see if it was possible. Even aided by her super-hearing children (who really deserved a name, not a obvious nod to "The Road" - which I consider self-servicing and unfair to the character, Malorie, who probably would have named them seeing how they are her only connection to humanity, but what do I know?), I find it difficult to swallow a few hundred yards, let alone MILES, blindfolded and trying to navigate unfamiliar terrain. The blind can do amazing things, yes, like play football, but it requires practice. A lot of practice - and even then, it's a court. It's not out in the woods or on a river. Malorie is not Bill Irwin. And he had his dog, and other hikers on the trail to help if he had gotten injured.

But that was the Appalachian trail, not a moving river.

Even when Tom and Jules are wandering the neighborhood, I find it also implausible that they found their way back with just one marker on the lawn. Really?

And finally I'll end this review on a more positive note. The pacing was amazing (though admittedly I found myself pushing to the end just to get it over with), all neat small chapters that presented a formulaic conflict/resolution that "carried" the story smoothly to the end. It's just a shame the protagonist never lifted more than her blindfold.
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