About five years ago, the Earth was invaded by mysterious creatures, yet no one really knows what they look like. That's because anyone who gazes upon them almost instantly goes insane, committing violence against others or themselves. Now only a handful of scattered survivors remain and among them are Malorie and her two four-year-old children, a boy and a girl. She's been living in an abandoned house near the river that she once shared with several other people, and she's been waiting for the day when she can leave in search of a place where they'll be safer. But it means traveling twenty miles downriver in a rowboat, blindfolded, with only her children's highly trained ears to guide them. As they make the journey, Malorie thinks back on the events that brought them to this place, and the farther they go, the more convinced she is that something is following them, but she has no idea exactly what it might be or how much danger they might be in.
Bird Box hit my radar because of the Netflix film that's based on it, which caught my attention. I'm always up for a post-apocalyptic story and that's exactly what it is. However, being the type of person who typically prefers to read the book prior to watching the movie version, I haven't seen it yet, but I immediately put the book on my TBR list. The world as we know it has been devastated by mysterious creatures, but no one really knows what they look like. That's because anyone who gazes upon them almost instantly goes mad and kills others and/or themselves. It's been speculated that the creatures are so advanced that the human mind can't comprehend them and thus fractures. As a result there are few survivors. Those who've managed to stay alive have done so by remaining indoors and covering all their windows with heavy drapes or blankets and only going outside wearing blindfolds. The story's main heroine is a young woman named Malorie who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant just as these creatures invade the Earth. After her sister goes mad and commits suicide, Malorie finds an ad for a safe house in the paper and follows the directions to get there. At her destination, she meets a houseful of other people who become her closest friends for the next several months until she gives birth. The story actually begins with Malorie, who is now alone except for her two children, making the fateful decision to leave the house that has been her home for the past four and half years. Since birth, she has trained her children, a boy and girl who are now four years old, to listen, and they can identify almost any sound. The three of them set out in a rowboat down a river near their house headed for a mysterious destination. In between the details of their journey, there are flashbacks to Malorie's life from the time the creatures appeared all the way through what happened to leave her and the kids alone, with a focus on her time in the safe house and the friendships she formed there.
Malorie's characterization isn't particularly deep. We learn very little about who she was before the apocalyptic event. Nothing of what type of person she was, what she did for a living, or her hobbies and interests, just that she had recently had a brief relationship with a guy that left her unexpectedly pregnant. She lives with her sister, Shannon, but after Shannon dies, Malorie can't reach her parents and assumes that they've likely met a similar fate. Driven by survival instinct and a need to protect her unborn child, she makes a run for the safe house. Once there she meets all the inhabitants: Tom, the de facto leader of the group who's experienced his own devastating loss; Jules, the animal lover, and his dog, Victor; Felix; Cheryl; and Don, the rather angry skeptic. Then two additional people join them after Malorie. They all live and work together trying to survive in this "new world." Malorie is a strong woman to make it through all the terror and loss that she has and still keep going. I think a large part of what drives her is her love for her children and a desire to keep them safe. Admittedly it would take a tough person to survive all that and it would require teaching the kids discipline as well, but occasionally the things she does to accomplish that seemed a bit harsh to me. That harshness is also punctuated by the fact that the kids have no names, only Boy and Girl, which seemed in some way to rob them of a little of their humanity. Once I reached the end of the book, I understood why the author wrote it this way, but it was still jarring. Overall, I respected Malorie as a character but I don't know that I got to know her well enough to feel much more than that. I liked all the housemates, too, especially Tom who is always the calm voice of reason, as well as smart and brave.
Overall, Bird Box was a good story that held my attention well. The author kept me reading by maintaining the mystery of how Malorie and the kids ended up alone, as well as by making me want to know where they were going downriver and if they would make it to their destination. However, I have to admit that the author's writing style drove me a little batty. He writes in third-person, present-tense, an unusual style. I can think of only one other author I've read who's written in this style, and it's not one I particularly care for. To make things worse, Mr. Malerman frequently uses the present progressive tense (eg. is walking, are talking) instead of simple present tense which IMHO would have made the prose much snappier and more engaging. Sometimes he uses simple verbs (eg. get) or "be" verbs when a more interesting word choice would have given a sentence more bulk and importance. And then there's the fact that he writes in short, simple, staccato sentences that sometimes aren't even sentences at all, but mere words or phrases. This gave the narrative a choppy feel. I found myself rewriting a lot of it on the fly as I went just so that it wasn't so irritating. Additionally one factual error that really stood out to me was that Malorie eats raw fish during her pregnancy which is a major no-no. There were also a number of things that weren't very well explained, including the creatures themselves, although since there is now another book in the series, I'm willing to give some of that a pass in hopes that there will be more details forthcoming. I will admit, though, that the author has a strong story-telling ability and it was that alone that kept me reading in spite of my frustration with his style. It was a testament to that ability that I was able to overlook the deficiencies in his writing and still give the book four stars. Bird Box is the first in a two-book series with the next one, Malorie, taking place twelve years after the conclusion of this one. I'm intrigued enough to be open to picking it up at some point, and I also look forward to finally checking out the movie soon, as well.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook