Published May 13, 2014
293 pages (Kindle e-book)
When I was a fifth-grade teacher, I made a deal with a kid who was struggling in science: if he got 100% on a test, I would take him out for ice cream and a movie. Positive incentives clearly worked for this kid; he stayed after school for extra help, studied like crazy, and got 100% on his very next test.
I told him we could go to any movie he chose, as long as it was mother-approved. As it turned out, that was a huge mistake. He decided he wanted to see The Ring Two, and his mother, for some inexplicable reason, thought that was perfectly fine.
Just watching the trailer gives me the big-time creeps: But I am a woman of my word. So, despite my reservations, I took that kid to see that stupid horror movie, and I jumped and gasped and hid my eyes all the way through it. He, of course, loved it and thought it was hilarious that I was scared.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not good at scary. Creepy, I can handle. But the gratuitously suspenseful music, people (or, worse yet, things) jumping out of dark corners, children talking in weird/possessed voices, dolls of any kind, or nasty, evil killing . . . I just can’t get behind any of that. Why people pay good money to get the living shit scared out of them is beyond me.
Thanks to my overactive imagination, I don’t do horror books, either. I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d be even worse than horror movies. The mental images they would conjure (and the nightmares they would evoke!) would be too much. I’ve never read a Stephen King book in my life, and I don’t intend to. Every once in a while, I’ll read a book that is borderline, and it gives me the willies. It keeps me up at night, questioning every noise I hear in the house . . . and when I finally fall asleep, I inevitably have nightmares. Most unpleasant.
Bird Box is one of those books. Here, take a gander at the book trailer to set the tone:
It all starts with the “Russia Report.” Two men are riding in a truck near St. Petersburg. The passenger asks the driver to pull over, whereupon he tears the driver’s lips from his face with his fingernails, and then proceeds to kill himself using a saw that he finds in the bed of the truck. In the days that follow, there are additional reports. A woman buries her children alive in the garden, and then kills herself using “the jagged edges of broken dishes.”
Soon, news coverage is filled with other, similarly gruesome events (always resulting in suicide) . . . and they’re getting closer and closer to the United States. Rumor has it that the madness—and subsequent murderous/suicidal rage—stems from seeing something outside. People assume it is a creature of some sort, but confirmation is impossible.
Our protagonist Malorie lives with her sister, Shannon, in Michigan. As the “events” draw nearer and nearer to them (A news story out of Alaska! Now one from the Upper Peninsula!), the women begin to take precautions. They cover their windows with blankets, close their eyes outside, and watch the news non-stop in the hopes of finding out some new and helpful information.
And then, just as the chaos is reaching its peak, Malorie finds out she’s pregnant. She realizes that they need help and cannot survive alone. She remembers reading an ad in the paper several weeks ago. A man has invited strangers into his home—anyone who wants to come is welcome, and they will all try to survive together. The owner hopes this “safe house” will act as a sanctuary as the events grow worse. Malorie sees no other options for survival. They must go to the house in the ad.
By chapter, the book jumps back and forth between these first days/months, when the madness-inducing things outside are new and people are trying to survive in this frightening, blind new world to about five years later, when Malorie is alone with her children (whom she calls “Boy” and “Girl”) and is trying to make a dangerous, blindfolded escape down a river to a place she hopes will be safer.
While I was reading this book, I started reading a non-fiction book simultaneously. Why? Because I wasn’t about to read this book at night. No way, no how. Am I being overly sensitive? You be the judge. Here is an excerpt (A bit of context: one of the men from the safe house has gone to a neighboring house in search of provisions. Once safe inside, he removes his blindfold . . . but it is his nose, not his eyes, that leads him to the master bedroom to investigate a horrific smell. He sees the following sitting on the bed):
The boy is wearing a suit. Propped against a dark headboard, his face is unnaturally turned toward Tom. His eyes are open. His mouth hangs. His hands are folded across his lap.
You starved here, Tom thinks. In your parents’ bedroom.
Stepping toward him, his mouth and nose covered, Tom compares him to the photos. The boy looks mummified. Shrunken.
For me, this conjures really vivid and creepy mental images. But this isn’t even one of the scariest or creepiest passages. The scariest parts of the book are the suspenseful moments. They are the moments when Malorie is outside—by herself, blindfolded—and encounters creepy noises, other people, disgusting smells, chilly breezes, and intuitions that creatures are close at hand. EEEEP!
Bird Box isn’t a particularly well-written book (the writing has a tendency to be overly simplistic and a little rushed), but it is, without question, creepy and suspenseful. And that, of course, is its aim. It is short and quick and packed with action. There is a little bit of interpersonal drama, but, by and large, this is a one-woman survival tale, and you’re rooting for Malorie (and the kids) to make it.
- A LibraryReads List selection for May 2014
Who should read it: John (i.e., people who are suckers for a dystopian tale and aren’t afraid to get totally creeped out by a book every once in a while).
Want to read along with me? A review of this book is coming soon:
- Us by David Nicholls (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, an Amazon Best Book of the Month for November 2014, and the #1 LibraryReads List selection for November 2014)