Bird Box

I don’t know if I will ever be able to truly ascertain how good Josh Malerman’s Bird Box actually is. I read it this summer at probably the darkest point of the year. I lost someone very close to me, someone very dear to me. Actually, as I was reading this book (in a period of 12 hours), I lost this person I’m talking about. Sorry to be vague, but that’s the unfortunate nature of some things.

I read the synopsis of this novel and I thought it would give me a distraction that I really needed at the time. This novel came to me at the right time, and while it’s content and concepts didn’t help me get through my hard time, it did indeed offer a distraction. I wanted it stir some emotion in me other than sadness. I knew that it was in the horror genre, and honestly, I thought being scared would be better than being sad. I didn’t quite get the lack of sadness though.

In Bird Box, something is out there. Suddenly these “creatures” show up, and one glimpse drives a person into a violent mania. This sudden appearance essentially creates an apocalypse and drives people into blindness. If one ventures into the outside world, his eyes must be covered in fear of potentially seeing these creatures. Malorie is an expectant mother who joins a group of “survivors” as they try to figure out how to create a life in this new world of danger.

I didn’t get my lack of sadness from this book because it is about nothing but death. A glimpse of these creatures is “like infinity … something too complex for us to comprehend” (47) ultimately pushing that person to madness and death. Typically a person is moved to violence against those around him, and ultimately himself. There are characters, though, who just kill themselves after seeing the creatures.

It’s a strange novel. Life is illustrated through human ingenue as being so adaptable. The creatures cause mayhem and yet humanity finds a way to continue existing while they inhabit the planet. In a cliche, life goes on.

Yet in other ways there’s a questions as to whether there are really any creatures at all. It’s almost a religious debate because you can’t see them, but you see their effect. And the simple belief of their existence changes the world.

Malerman is a strong writer. So much of the novel is cloaked in uncertainty — really in unknowable blindness. It had me nervous at times. My heart was pounding at moments. I could feel the novel creeping towards the necessary fate. Again, it was mimicking my own life at the time. The days leading up to my loved one’s loss were so uncertain yet very sure.

I thought Bird Box was good. I made it through really fast because there are moments you can’t put it down. I did get a few chills, but I would call this novel more of a thriller rather than a horror book. I never felt scared, though I did feel tense for the characters. Definitely worth a read, and I’ll be watching Malerman for future work.

Favorite Passages in Bird Box

How horrible. After all this struggling, all this survival. To die because of an accident. (3)

They were safe there. Why did they leave? Is the place they are heading going to be any safer? How could it be? In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for? (98)

“We need to make progress. Otherwise we’re waiting for news in a world where there is no longer any news.” (105)

Man is the creature he fears (231)

You can smell it, too. Death. Dying. Decay. The sky is falling, the sky is dying, the sky is dead. (244)

The feeling of something inside her that must get out is the horrifying and incredible feeling she’s ever known. (248)

The Girl with All the Gifts

M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts begins in a strangely dystopia-esque world where it appears that children are caged and tied to wheelchairs. It’s only later that we find the children are zombies. But aside from other zombie tropes, these children are still functioning mentally. They are able to learn and process information. The sharpest child with these skills is the protagonist of the story, Melanie. With this fascinating development of zombie-children, army scientists have set up a special base to study these “specimens.” Most intriguing about Melanie’s acuity is her capacity to love, which develops between her and one of the instructors, Miss Justineau.

Of course, as any zombie novel is prone to do, whatever control that may have been left post-apocalypse will ultimately crumble. So goes this science base leaving a small band of humans and high-functioning zombie left to proceed on a journey throughout the remainder of the novel.

Carey’s excellence in storytelling is illustrated through subtlety. This is not an in-your-face horror genre novel. The scare-factor that, in this case, won’t leave you sleepless is the lingering humanity in Melanie that is warring against a new natural (zombie) state. Why is this frightening? In all other zombie novels, yes it is a scary thought to be eaten by a once-human monster. But we can ultimately separate these monsters from ourselves because the person inside is no more. Whatever happens to the spirit, we know zombies are reanimated shells. Not so in this novel — well at least for some.

This ultimately draws out the intrinsic question: what makes a person a person? Melanie is a zombie, but again, she has the capacity to think, to talk, to hinder herself (for the most part) from ripping everyone to shreds. So is she a monster? Do we doom her (aka kill her) because this “disease” has doomed her?

Favorite Passages

there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. (1)

you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them. (51)

When there’s nothing to do, and you can’t even move, time goes a lot more slowly. (61)

all love is blind as it needs to be. (228)

How could there ever have been enough people to live in all these houses? How could they ever have built their towers so high? And how could anything in the whole world ever have conquered them? (247)

the horror of the unknown is more frightening than any horror you can understand (370)

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I typically don’t read very fast. But I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda almost in one sitting. It took me back to the moments in (small-town South Georgia) high school when I knew it was time to come out. I can still remember uttering those words, heart pounding, to my two best friends, Kasey and Ame. And I remember being greeted with love and support from all my friends who were so glad that I finally decided to come out.

Anyway, this novel was so well done. I was giddy and on the edge of my seat at times trying to figure out who Blue could be. Sadly, I figured it out before the big reveal, but it was still nice. I love that this novel hammers home the importance of strong friendships and what a difference acceptance makes in the lives of gay youth.

I did think it was a little too magical that both Simon and “Blue” received almost universal acceptance — especially being set in the South. Actually it felt a little wishful when I was reading it. The story was good enough that I could over look it, but it was a little unbelievable that nonacceptance would only come from the peripheral.

Overall the novel is an excellent YA story that brilliantly captures the stress and pressure of coming out and coming into acceptance of oneself, to only then try to navigate the strange world of teen relationships. Looking forward to the movie adaptation.

Favorite Passages in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

He has an actual southern accent. Which is something you almost never hear in Atlanta, really.
— this struck me as very funny. When I first moved to Metro Atlanta, many of my friends pointed out my very southern accent. I would always retort with, “We’re in the south! What do you expect?” 😉

I mean, I feel secure in my masculinity, too. Being secure in your masculinity isn’t the same as being straight.
— Yes!! 100% yes!

Annihilation

Annihilation, the entry to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, is a masterpiece. Don’t argue with me. I read the novel back in 2014 when it was first released, and I was astounded at how beautiful and completely … other a novel could possibly be. As such a fan, of course, I was incredibly excited to learn of a film adaptation.

Actually, I was lucky enough to meet the VanderMeers (Jeff and Anne) at the Decatur Book Festival in 2014. Jeff teased that the novel had been shopped around for film rights and it was in the works.I slowly forgot about it until the trailer surfaced and my heart raced. So this opening weekend, I marched into the theater trusting Natalie Portman to be a strong Biologist/Ghost Bird, and I found my heart breaking.

But from the bad can always come good. While I was disappointed at Hollywood’s failed attempt to translate this masterpiece to the silver screen, I knew the antidote to such a poison was to read the novel again. So I did. I finished it in one delicious gulp.

Good God, what an intriguing and stunning novel. There is little to tell without telling everything, and fortunately, there is a fantastic novel to take care of that.

In the simplest terms, an expedition of four scientists are commissioned to go into Area X, a mysterious piece of land that has changed since the Event (whatever that refers to). Each specializes in a different area of expertise: psychology, biology, anthropology, military. Things aren’t as they seem; though, on the surface, everything appears to be pristine untouched land. In reality, it is anything but.

VanderMeer shows incredible prowess as he crafts a story that works so intricately upon the creepy. The tension in these pages can be so real at times that it’s mesmerizing. The novel is built in the guise of the biologist’s journal. She recreates her experience as she and her crew journey into the heart of Area X. There is this constant melange of the biologist fulfilling the role as the watcher and the watched. Tension fills the background because obviously there is some undefinable presence.

What I love so much about this novel, and I think speaks so well to VanderMeer’s true talent is the use of veiled writing. The characters are only partially defined for us. We don’t get much detail as to what they look like, or even what they’re names are. This cloaking adds to the mystery of this land. As the biologist notes, “Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X” (9). And it these withheld details that make the novel so cerebral but also direct our attention to the unknown.

Not only that, it puts us at the mercy of our self-proclaimed unreliable narrator. She tells the reader she is withholding certain information: “It may be clear by now that I am not good at telling people things they feel they have a right to know, and in this account thus far I have neglected to mention some details” (150). And this creates a rift of distrust, or perhaps envy. What does she know that we don’t? It is much like a mimicry of Area X itself — the answers escape us.

The biologist is much of an enigma. The psychologist and the surveyor (again they have no names, so they go by their titles) point out that the biologist has begun to change, while she argues that she is steadfast and the same as she always was. That’s actually untrue. She has indeed changed more than she lets on. She reveals in flashbacks that she is a very closed person. She is content in solitude. But as her journal (this document we are reading) shows, she has become much more open. She has revealed much more to us than she has to anyone else, though she claims, “I haven’t told it quite right” (193).

As I write this post, I have reread several passages, and I can’t help but remark at how gorgeous the prose reads. This is one of my favorites:

The ghost bird had found his ghost, on an inexplicable pile of other ghosts. But rather than looking forward to reading that account I felt as if I were stealing a private diary that had been locked by his death. A stupid feeling, I know. All he’d ever wanted was for me to open up to him, and as a result, he had always been there for the taking. Now, though, I would have to take him as I found him, and it would probably be forever, and I found the truth of that intolerable. (118)

This is no ordinary thriller in my opinion. Annihilation is an upstanding piece of fiction. I always judge a work by my level of jealousy, and I have to admit that I wish I had written this! It’s just so damn good. VanderMeer’s writing is masterful. The evidence of the creepy persists so strongly in the background of the novel, that the thrill of the journey seeps into your bones.

Circling back to the film, I often found myself wishing someone like Lars von Trier had a hand in the novel to give us something closer to Melancholia. There just wasn’t enough strangeness, mystery, and wonderment – not to mention aggressive changes to the story. So please, do me a favor, read the book first.

Favorite Passages

when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you. (6)

There are certain kinds of deaths that one should not be expected to relive, certain kinds of connections so deep that when they are broken you feel the snap of the link inside you. (46)

no amount of training could prepare you for encountering a monster. (59)

what was a map but a way of emphasizing some things and making other things invisible? (66)

That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality. (108)

“but what about the /veil/ already in place?” (Psychologist, 128)
— confirmation of the veiled writing I mentioned … mentioned several other times

When you are too close to the center of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire. (130)

I felt as if I were stuck between two futures, even though I had already made the decision to live in one of them. (147)

“but we couldn’t see it through the veil, the interference.” (Biologist’s husband, 166)
— further confirmation of the veil