Bird Box: Great Premise, Missed Opportunities

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Madeleine’s Score: It was okay—wouldn’t read it again
(3/5 cool points)

Malorie is pregnant and finds herself suddenly alone in a world where people are dying just by looking at mysterious creatures who have taken up residence on Earth. We see her in the present as she flees toward a sanctuary via a dangerous, blind trek down a river with two young children, as well as in the past during her pregnancy, which she went through in a house full of survivors like her.

The premise of Bird Box is elegant, and in its beautiful simplicity, it finds its center. The idea that creatures so beyond our understanding that to see them drives us mad is compelling unto itself. That combined with the writer’s ability not only to write suspensefully, but to also appeal to the senses other than sight as the book’s premise demands, kept me reading until the end.

But there are missed opportunities in this page-turner, such as the freedom, or rather, the necessity, to dive deeply into the characters, especially when the majority of the time they’re trapped in a house together. The potential for psychological examination and character-building that this premise screamed for was squandered. Instead, we’re left with housemates who are barely distinguishable from one another and a leading lady whose flat personality is rivaled only by her inconsistencies. Which is the other sticking point in this book–inconsistencies and illogical plot points that made me shout, “Wait, what?” a number of times.

For example, people in the U.S. are terrified of the news stories about people dying at the sight of some unknown things in Russia. This terror drives them to paranoia, resulting in them blocking the windows of their houses with blankets and walking around town wearing blindfolds before the creatures ever arrive. This begs the question, why did so many die when they were prepared for the arrival of the creatures? Especially when the creatures don’t seem to physically attack?

Another aspect that I found less than believable was the author’s treatment of the dogs. Gary claims the creatures roam their street constantly, and yet, neither of the huskies with Tom and Jules ever see one and go mad in the week they were out and about in the neighborhood. But the border collie Victor goes mad when he sees a creature in the bar where Malorie stops to have several drinks alone among rotten bar food and the dangerous shadows beyond her reckoning (when she’s been terrified of her own shadow for more or less the entirety of the book, but I digress). I found myself attempting to make excuses for the writer with issues such as these; his skillful use of suspense made me root for him to use logic, as well.

The narrator of this edition, Cassandra Campbell, was fantastic. She even had the challenge of voicing two four-year-old kiddos, which she did extremely well.

In the end, I enjoyed this horror ride. But for me, the movie was more believable and its characters more compelling (gasp). I’ll check out the next book in the series. Fingers crossed we actually get to learn something of substance about Malorie, for whom the sequel is named.

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