Josh Malerman’s debut novel, Bird Box, is as down-to-earth a horror novel as I’ve ever read. At least, I think it’s a horror novel. Chilling and unboxed in by convention or prose, it tells us the story of Malorie and her two children, Boy and Girl, in a world that would make Cormac McCarthy, Hugh Howey, and Stephen King all seem comfortable. It’s a world after; it’s just after what that we’re not sure.
We see much of the novel in the present, as Malorie and her two children make a break for it from their home of the last few years, and the past, as we see Malorie in a world much like ours as telltale signs of a world on the brink pop up around her. We know that everyone in the present tries to keep themselves from seeing, because seeing leads to (or appears to lead to) The Madness [my term, not Malerman’s]. When the Madness descends, people take their own lives by any means possible. No one seems to know where it comes from or why.
In the past world, we understand that people become further and further removed from each other, from community. Malorie takes refuge first with her sister, and later with a group of strangers. Like any post-apocalyptic scenario, we realize that there is good, there is evil, and there is paranoia. But when everyone is forced to wear blindfolds to keep from going mad… they go a bit insane in their closed off worlds. [There’s a bit here about Matthew 18:9 about “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out,” but I’m still mulling that one over.]
I don’t want to say much more to avoid ruining the suspense, but I felt compelled to finish the book in a day. My sleep was troubled, I admit. But was it troubled by the horror of the book, not horror revealed but just around the corner (and here, complimentarily, I will compare it to M. Night Shymalan’s Signs)? Or was it troubled because this is a parable about how we relate to each other when our own worlds go to hell in a hand basket, putting up blinders, defending our turf, and leaving everyone else to rot? It seems apropos, not just when we see World War Z but when we encounter depression, recession, natural disasters, etc.
Malerman is entertaining, but he also leads me to consider society, and how strung-out we are on our own individualism. We are into our own salvation, damning everything and everyone else to hell, when we lock in on ourselves. Ultimately, salvation doesn’t seem to find us without community, and vice versa. And maybe that leaves me with this as a final critique: Don’t read this book if you don’t want to think.