If you’re looking for something that is fast-paced and just might give you an anxiety attack, Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box may be exactly what you need. Set in the very near future, Bird Box is a book that simultaneously takes place during and after the apocalypse. Human beings find their minds under assault by an unseen force, one that drives them toward homicidal and suicidal tendencies. The only way to remain safe is to never, ever open your eyes.
Imagine with me what living in a world, robbed suddenly of sight, might be like. We rely heavily on our senses and, as an avid reader, I highly value my ability to be able to see the written word. I can’t even begin to fathom what it would be like to find myself forced into an eternally dark void, and never have I thought of a scenario in which I would choose to be blind.
In Bird Box, Malorie and her children aren’t given that option. Stranded in a home that is not her own, and faced with dwindling supplies and a lack of social interaction with anyone but her two children, Malorie must embark on a dangerous mission to find a new, safer haven for her small family: only their destination isn’t very close to them, and they are not alone. There’s a fourth party traveling with them and they are helpless to identify the newcomer.
The entire story does not follow that journey alone, though. In fact, it simultaneously takes place prior to Malorie’s endeavor, introducing us to an entire cast of characters ranging from lovable to untrustworthy; from the purely innocent to those whose madness goes beyond all help. Though I’m not a huge fan of the constant back and forth chronology (in fact, I find it to be extremely distracting), the manner in which Malerman reveals bits and pieces of his story is crucial to progression: it gives readers the opportunity to develop their own feelings for Malorie and how she handles her problems. I also found that the odd way in which he split the story kept me reading, if only because more often that not, I found myself wondering how or why something was the way it was presently if, at the beginning of the end, everything seemed to be headed in a totally different direction.
Like most stories that take place after the world as we know it has met its doom, whether by nuclear fallout, bio-warfare, or the collapse of government, Bird Box brings out the best, and more readily, the worst in people. They become desperate or panicked, sometimes to the point that their actions defy all logic: such as the voluntary or involuntary blinding of oneself to avoid madness. Perhaps I so easily love post-apocalyptic books for that reason alone. They have a habit of reminding us exactly how pathetic and disgusting our own race can be; how often we are willing to put ourselves first, despite the suffering of others, should the situation call for it.