Josh Malerman knows where our fear lives.
It’s not in the gushing splatter of arterial blood or in staring into the eyes of a predator ready to pounce or in fighting for your life with something monstrous. These spike our adrenalin, call on us to fight or flee and then they are gone.
Real fear, the kind that eats at you with the slow relentlessness of rust, comes from living with a threat you cannot fight or run away from. Real fear, the kind that hunkers down in your mind and stays there, comes from being vulnerable and helpless for long periods of time, from knowing the threat is there but not when it will strike, from understanding that surviving the last hour doesn’t lessen the threat of the next.
In “Bird Box” Josh Mallerman has created the perfect situation for extended exposure to deep, corrosive fear. He creates a world were seeing something, no one knows what, will make you kill others and then yourself. Where sight, the sense we all depend on most, becomes a threat, not a defence. Where anyone, including you, can become an enemy in an instant. Then he locks a group of people house that at first seems like a haven but slowly becomes a cage, and lets the fear fester and the tension build until threat is a constant unwelcome companion.
Early in the book, there’s a scene with one of the men from the house fetching water from the well. He’s blindfold but he’s done this many times before. He’s has a rope around his waist, held by a housemate. There are sticks to mark his path. He tells himself that if he follows the routine, he’ll be safe. Then he thinks he hears… what? who? how close?
Malerman turns that walk to the well into a scene more heart-thumping than a face-to-face confrontation with the nightmare creature of your choice.
This goes straight for where our fears live.
I won’t reveal the plot but I will say that I stayed up late to finish “Bird Box” because I couldn’t go to sleep without knowing how the book ended.
If you haven’t read it already, I recommend it to you. It’s as close to perfect as a horror book can get. The tension is almost unbearable. The fear is visceral. The people are real. The events, well they’re a perfect mix of heartbreak and hope.