Ecco, 2014, 272 pages
Most people ignored the outrageous reports on the news. But they became too frequent, they became too real. And soon, they began happening down the street. Then the Internet died. The television and radio went silent. The phones stopped ringing. And we couldn't look outside anymore. Malorie raises the children the only way she can; indoors. The house is quiet. The doors are locked, the curtains are closed, mattresses are nailed over the windows. They are out there. She might let them in. The children sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Soon she will have to wake them. Soon she will have to blindfold them. Today they must leave the house. Today they will risk everything.
It begins with incidents in Russia. Ordinary people suddenly going berserk and committing gruesome murder-suicides. Then the incidents start happening closer... Alaska, Canada, and soon Malorie and her sister are hearing about them in their home state.
But if you're thinking "zombie apocalypse," you're wrong. Bird Box is a terse and intense thriller with an original premise. Nobody knows what's causing people to go insane, except that it always happens after they see... something. And the crumbling of civilization happens as people shut themselves in their houses, nailing blankets over their windows, and wear blindfolds when they must venture outdoors. Anyone who exposes their sight to the outside world risks going mad.
Bird Box alternates chapters between the present and the events four years ago leading up to Malorie's refuge in a household of other increasingly claustrophobic and stir-crazy survivors. In the present, Malorie is alone with two young children, rowing them blindfolded down a river in a harrowing journey to what she hopes will be another, larger sanctuary, so we already know that the backstory is going to end badly for everyone else.
When the shit in the flashback chapters does go down, after weeks of escalating tension with Malorie and another woman about to give birth, the housemates at each other's throats, and a newcomer they took in hinting at theories that it's all in their minds and they should just walk outside, it's intense and horrible in the way good horror novels should be.
This is the sort of book that really would make a good movie, in the hands of a director who knows how to use a camera.
The author's day job is apparently being lead singer in a rock band. Seriously.
Well, this is the first time I've ever been scared by a hipster. The writing isn't perfect, and I had a hard time believing in Malorie's almost sociopathic upbringing of two four-year-olds to survive in a world where opening your eyes outside can kill you, but Bird Box is a great debut novel, and I hope Malerman writes more.
Verdict: Occasionally, you have to tell rather than show, and Bird Box delivers most of its terror in what's not described. A must-read for horror fans who are sick of zombies. 8/10.
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