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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Bird Box

It's an old adage that that which can not be seen is scarier than what can be seen, and it has proved true in films like Cat People and Jaws. But Bird Box, a nifty horror novel by Josh Malerman, takes that to the extreme. No one can see the horror in this book--if they do, they go insane.

"The things that have haunted her for more than four years are not creatures to her. A garden slug is a creature. A porcupine. But the things that have lurked beyond draped windows and have kept her blindfolded are not the sort that an exterminator could ever remove."

The story follows a woman named Malorie at two points in her life. One is when she finds a group of survivors and moves in with them. Communication systems have broken down. No one is quite sure what has happened, but they do know that whatever has invaded must not be seen. So when they go outside they close their eyes or wear blindfolds, and keep the windows covered. They have a store of food, but it's dwindling. Eventually frayed nerves and paranoia set in.

The other thread of the story is four years later, when Malorie has left that house (we won't find out how or why until the end of the book) and is paddling down a river with her two children. She has trained them to keep their eyes closed, and she wears a blindfold, growing suspicious at every sound. Again, we're not sure where she's headed--it would seem foolish to try to navigate a river without being able to see but it all makes sense at the end.

Malerman ingeniously never reveals what the creatures are or what their power is, which leaves it to the characters' imaginations (of course they never see them, either) and ours. This makes for some terrific suspense.

But I have a few problems with the whole set-up. If no one was able to survive seeing them, how did people figure out that they shouldn't be seen? And have you ever tried to wear a blindfold? The human head is not good that sort of thing--they always slip. Unless they've got a bunch of sleep masks I think it's dubious that one could do things like walk around a neighborhood, drive a car, or paddle a canoe wearing one.

Still, Bird Box (the title comes from one of the survivors' early warning systems) is better-than-average horror fare, and provides a few genuine frights.

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