Nathan reviews Bird Box by Josh Malerman, HarperCollins, 2014, 262 pages

Have you ever read a book you just had to step back from and give it some time? Bird Box is one of those for me. I first tried reading it in the fall of 2020 but just could not make quick enough progress in it for my own liking, so, begrudgingly, I put it back on the shelf. This was definitely the right choice. Now, nearly two years later, I am far enough removed from that failed attempt and even watching the film adaptation, and this feels like the perfect time. (I should have known better than to watch the movie before reading the book. Or did I know it was a book then?)

The novel is written with alternating chapters jumping back and forth roughly four years. Each showing just how this flavor of apocalypse has impacted humanity. While “apocalypse” has become a common term, this version is very different. There is no natural disaster, no invading extraterrestrial force, not exactly, and no doomsday weapon. In fact, for much of the novel, no one truly knows what is causing the collapse. They only know the results. Madness.

Choosing the more intense of the two times of the novel is tough. While both face the same omnipresent threat, each does so in different ways. Both bring specialized baggage and stresses along with the lingering fear. Each is tense and emotional but for drastically different reasons. The two are years apart, which is clear thanks to the third-person omniscient narration style emphasizing the time, but they are still very deeply connected in surprising ways.

Saying the book is suspenseful may be cliché, but it feels incredibly accurate. Every moment connects to the next, hurriedly pulling it into focus. Jumping back and forth in the narrative gives glimpses of what is, what was, and what will be – but never enough to have the full picture all at once. Back and forth we go, gathering more information and trying to complete the puzzle. The two timelines, in a way, slowly creep toward one another, finally meeting to complete the image of the apocalyptic world in which the characters live.