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 Fall Guy

James Lasdun’s The Fall Guy is a complicated and overwrought piece of literature. The main character, Matthew, is full of misdirection both in the way his life has lead him thus far and the way he leads the reader in the present. There is so much separation, so much space, between all the characters, like Matthew and Charlie being cousins, not brothers–like Matthew’s idea of Chloe as a daughter, sister, mother, friend, lover, when she really isn’t any of those things to him– and it’s within these wide spaces where deception takes place as to who the characters really are. The facade and ambiguity entrenches the novel in some spooky watchfulness, that of Matthew’s watchful, but I wonder if some of the spookiness doesn’t come from our own (the reader’s) watchfulness. Yet aside from the watchfulness, there is an inherent misconstruction on all accounts as to who the characters are, and who we are lead to believe they are.

To create this feeling, the novel has to be built on the mundane, and it digs a mote between the reader and the characters by silently introducing them as the “1%” often talked about in politics. I somehow believe this is a protection mechanism for the reader. The lavishness of the family harkens us to look in upon them, revealing no shame for us, while it also relieves us of any connection that would derive any empathy for the characters.

I read this novel unbelievably faster than normal. I was surprised because the mundane, mentioned above, threatened to tax my interest to the point of shelving this Book of the Month Club pick. But trusting something good was coming paid off. I think the psychologically thrilling aspects of the novel are worth it. It’s complicated, and it’s messy. Lasdun also has a tendency to overwrite in several places. But what’s genius about his writing is usually a big critique for other books. If you find yourself saying, I didn’t find the characters believable, I think Lasdun has succeeded. They are not meant to be believable, nor are we to really know if we see the real characters at any point within the novel. There are fractured moments where we can certainly believe they are being genuine, but for the most part, I think we were duped … in such a good way.

The Fall Guy is one of those slowburn novels. I read it thinking the entire time it was a 2.5 or 3 star book, but the more the completed work ruminates in my mind, the more I understand I’ve had a delectable weekend treat.