Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel Bird Box sets up a world that is like a high stakes version of Blind Man’s Bluff (the game where you’re blindfolded and charged with tagging all the other players), only if you take the blindfold off, you go insane.
The novel sets up two stories running on contrasting timelines and telling vastly different stories with the same character in the middle of them both. The first timeline starts years after people start going insane and killing themselves. Malorie, a woman who lives in a house with all the windows covered, is preparing to leave her home to reach a new safe area. With her are two children only known as “boy” and “girl.” She has been preparing them to leave since they were infants and they are now old enough to safely make the journey. The only problem is: they have to traverse down a river — blindfolded.
The second timeline takes off at the beginning of the outbreak and begins with Malorie discovering she’s pregnant while her sister watches news reports about people becoming violent and suicidal in Russia. This report grows into many as a wave of insanity spreads across the world. The only thing people know is that the insane see something or someone before murdering whoever is around them, then swiftly killing themselves. Malorie, terrified of what is happening, finds a safe house for herself to stay at with a group of survivors who aim to wait out this mass insanity sweeping the globe.
Both timelines set up a different kind of story within the overarching plot of Bird Box. Timeline #1 is almost a road trip — albeit a harrowing one. It is about fighting back and no longer hiding from whatever is lurking out in the world, waiting to be seen vs. Timeline #2 which is a survival story about a group of people trying to get by and make it through a disaster and their own paranoia about what is happening.
I found the book a tense, nail biting read that had some terrifying moments — especially the moments where Malorie has her eyes closed or covered and can’t see what is happening. She describes what she hears and smells and feels and it felt worse than if she described what she was seeing. It developed a more visceral fear in me to not know what the character was seeing. The climax of both timelines had me on the edge of my seat which is impressive since I had a good idea of how Timeline #2 would shake out.
My main complaint would be that the prose is pretty sparse throughout which can be a detriment to the book in certain scenes where a bit more detail and fleshing out of the world would allow the novel to soar. However, it works in certain instances to heighten some of the creepier scenes and really showcases the emptiness of the world Malorie is navigating.
Overall, I would highly recommend Bird Box. It brings some seriously creepy scenes that managed to chill me to my core. It also introduced me to new things to be scared of: seeing something that makes me or somebody close to me go crazy and the monsters lurking within the comfort of a safe space.