Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Genre: Horror

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback and e-book

This is easily one of the best horror books I’ve read in years. If there is any book I’ve read so far this year that I would call a “real page-turner,” Bird Box is the one. This was a terrifying and gripping read, which is honestly difficult for me to find in the horror genre. Most of the horror books I read I find to be a little creepy and more of a supernatural mystery than an actual pulse-quickener that induces an “OMG NO” sick feeling in my gut. It’s the same with horror movies for me; I find most rely too much on jump-scares and special effects to startle the viewer, rather than having unsettling, terror-fueling content.

Malerman takes the fears of the unknown and losing one’s sight and knocks them sideways in his debut novel. He also wastes no time in getting to the point of the story: People are going insane because they are seeing someone… or something. In their fear, people are refusing to go outside, boarding up windows and hiding behind locked doors. But it doesn’t seem to be enough. Accidents happen and temptation is too great, and people are still peeking outside; some are even going crazy from being so isolated. Malorie loses everyone in her life just as she figures out that she’s pregnant, and she decides that in order to survive, she needs to find a house she saw advertised in the personals section of the newspaper. A house that promises to be open to anyone looking for somewhere to go in this new world of fear and panic. Only a few months after she arrives, she and her two children are the last surviving members of the little enclave. Several years pass and she realizes that today is The Day. She needs to get to the boat and guide her small family down the river to what she hopes is their salvation, but she’ll need need to use her eyes to get them there.

What makes this book so successful is that we know just as much about these creatures as our main character- absolutely nothing. We follow Malorie’s journey with the same blindness she is forced to endure, hoping she (we) make it out alive. We rely on sound and touch just as much as Malorie does, and we know we cannot open our eyes to see what is probably standing in front of us. Bird Box taps into the visceral fear of not knowing what’s stalking you in the dark. There are multiple events that bring us thisclose to the creatures, and each one makes you more tense and nervous than the last. I became so emotionally invested in Malorie and her journey that I had a hard time putting the book down. When she was scared, I was scared. When she was relieved or emotionally wiped out, so was I. I nearly nawed a finger off towards the end of her river journey, I was so nervous.

We never get answers, which can be really frustrating in stories like these. I’ve read a number of horror books, particularly post-apocalypse books, that never explain the Whys and Hows of what happened and it is often unsatisfying. But the way Malerman crafted this story was genius, because I really didn’t want to find out the Who or the How or the Why. It too easily would have ruined the suspense created by not knowing these things. Not showing the Who leaves the reader’s imagination open to it’s own interpretation of what is wandering around, which I feel is the best way to really immerse the reader in the story.

If you are interested in reading this book, I highly recommend reading it on a day when you don’t have any laundry to do, or a job to go to, and to have your meals delivered or prepared by someone else in the house. I read this over a few days because I was working and otherwise attending to life, but all I wanted to do was finish the book. When I started reading it, I got an email from one of the several mailing lists I’ve found myself on that alerted me to the fact that Bird Box‘s e-book format was on sale for $1.99 and immediately purchased it. I was reading the book whenever I could squeeze a few minutes out of my day, and thinking about it when I wasn’t able to read it. I almost feel like I can’t do the book any justice with a review, because I can’t sufficiently describe how quickly I was sucked into the story and how invested in the plot I became.

The film rights were purchased by Universal in 2013, but so far there hasn’t been any public discussion of an actual movie. I’m honestly hoping that they decide not to follow through with turning the book into a movie. I fear that they will turn our somewhat incorporeal adversary into a real creature, and it will ruin the effect Malerman created by never describing them to us.

The Blue Fox by Sjón

Genre: Fiction, quasi-magical realism

Rating: 4.5/5

Format: Paperback

I won’t lie, I bought this book because of the cover. I love a handsome book cover, and this edition really appealed to my aesthetics. I also really dig foxes, so a book about a fox appealed to my interests. I bought it through (which is one of my favorite places to buy books online) when it popped up as a recommended title. I went in completely blind about the writer and the plot, and ended up really enjoying this book.

One of the things I liked most about this book is that the plot starts at the middle of the story, goes back in time, then jumps forward. It takes place over only a few days, making it exceptionally easy to follow the time warp, and is skillfully done. We begin with a preacher heading out on a hunt for a blue fox. We get the perspective of the fox intertwined with the preacher’s perspective during this first third of the book. A lesser writer would not have handled the animal perspective so well, as often it can get unrealistic and cheesy, but the we don’t dip into that territory with Sjón.

We go a few days back in time, and we learn about an herbalist living on the outskirts of the town, who has had a young woman under his charge for several years. Her story is especially tragic. She had Down Syndrome, and the backstory of her treatment by the town is horrific. It’s a small slice of the history of Down Syndrome as well, which is also tragic. She has passed away and the herbalist is sending her body with the preacher’s “assistant” back to town for burial, but he is uniquely mourning her passing. This slice of the timeline is layered in sadness and hope and I think it is my favorite part of the book.

When we return to the preacher, he has captured his blue fox. He finds himself seriously injured by an avalanche and this is when things take a particularly interesting turn. I think there are many ways to interpret what happens next, which I am itching to discuss but can’t without spoiling the entire book. Regardless, it is safe for me to say that the preacher loses his lucidity at one point, and that is where the interesting turn takes place. We end the book with a pretty provocative revelation, which is where I think Sjón’s ability to weave together a story really shines.

What really stands out to me about this book is that I finished it about two weeks ago, but it’s still rattling around my head. I can usually finish a book, decide if I liked it or not, and move on to the next read. Despite being one of my shortest reads this year, I am still mulling over it. I’m actually thinking about reading it again once I get through some of the other books I’m currently reading, and I am not one to re-read books. I had originally rated this book four stars, but it is slowly creeping into five star territory. I am going to be looking into some of Sjón’s other works as well.