5 stars out of 5
Eerie. Unsettling. Chilling.
Those are just three of the descriptors that ran through my head as I rushed to get to the end of this book. How do I feel now that I've finished it? All of the above plus frightened, wary and - inexplicably - terribly angry. Above all, anger is the emotion that stuck with me for hours after I'd shut down my Kindle; and as I write this, I'm still not sure from whence it came.
I suspect some of it is rooted in the ending - or the lack of something more definitive (perhaps more to the point, more hopeful). After I'd followed the characters through horrific experiences - most notably a woman named Malorie and two young children - I guess I hoped to see more light at the end of their tunnel (although, in retrospect, that absence may well be exactly what the author intended).
Add to the mix my own angst - the depths of which I haven't felt since the early 1950s, when we practiced hiding under our classroom desks we were told would protect us against a possible nuclear attack - as I watch hatred build to unprecedented levels in my own country right now. A book review isn't the place to take "sides" - except to say that in this case, neither one is blameless - but I do admit it frightens the devil out of me to see what fear, or the perceived threat thereof, can do to human behavior.
And boy, there's plenty of that in this book. The basic story really isn't new; the general population succumbs to some kind of apocalyptic disaster, with most of the survivors trying to stay alive long enough to build a new world. Here, seeing unknown "things" appears to be driving humans totally mad, beginning in Russia and quickly spreading around the world. Once it reaches the United States, people begin taking it seriously as they watch people die hand over fist (sometimes done in by their own fists) until almost no one is left. One of those survivors is Malorie, who's alone and pregnant with nowhere to go and no one to trust.
The only constant seems to be that unspeakable horror is an eye-opening experience, and the commonly held belief is that anyone who wants any chance at survival must remain blindfolded or in a place where those inside never see the outside. So it is that Malorie stumbles into a house that's occupied by a handful of other wary survivors, all of whom are desperate to find a safe way out. Five years later, with two four-year-old children who have never seen the light of day (literally), Malorie decides it's time to make a run for it. The route she's been told it must take ends 20 miles down the river behind the house she's been living in - 20 miles she and the kids must travel while blindfolded. More than that I can't say without revealing too much - not even explaining the meaning behind the title.
Chapters shift from Malorie's voyage in the here and now to the past years of interaction with the other occupants of the house, and not an inch of either journey is the least bit pretty. Even so, the whole thing is so riveting that I hated to stop reading. It's short enough that I finished within 24 hours, but it will stick with me for some time to come. Read it - you'll see what I mean. Whew!
Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, reprint edition, May 2014); 305 pp.