(Another) Book of the Week – Bird Box – Josh Malerman

As you might imagine, I read a lot of books…literary books, commercial books, nonfiction. And I think it’s hard for people in the business to avoid “handicapping” what they read in advance of publication: What’s the chance that a debut author will break out and become a bestseller?

Quality of the writing is one measure for sure—but we all know that’s no guarantee. There’s another factor that’s a surer indicator—the “you’ve got to read this” impulse that makes someone finish a book then turn around and start talking about it.

That’s what Bird Box has. This is fast-paced literary horror that will work for the most commercial readers as well as old fashioned fans of Shirley Jackson and even Henry James. It’s elegant, mysterious and almost unbearably tense right from the first page. I inhaled it in one sitting, asked for dozens and dozens of ARCs, and started handing putting them into the hands of every bookseller I could find.

Booksellers love to handsell books. What most of them aren’t so crazy about is sitting down and writing emails about them. Yet I got an astounding twelve email raves for Bird Box along with several dozen booksellers telling me in person how much they loved it. So if handselling and word-of-mouth can create a bestselling summer read, I think this one’s got it.

Two starred advance reviews for Bird Box and volumes of bookseller praise follow. By the way, Malerman’s day (night?) job is with a Detroit band called The High Strung. If you live in Michigan, Ohio or Kentucky he might be scheduled to appear at your local bookstore. Check it out; rumor is he’s bringing his band with him and it might be one of the more unusual book readings you’ve attended.

The sight of something unknown drives people to savagely attack others before taking their own lives in Malerman’s terrific debut, a sophisticated update of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. First reported in Russia, the mysterious plague spreads to the U.S., where it takes a devastating toll on humanity. The only defense against the madness is to avoid looking at the outside world. Four years after the initial outbreak, Malorie lives with her four-year-old twins, known as Boy and Girl, in a suburban Detroit house with sealed windows that has been prepared for long-term survival, stocked with food and other necessary supplies. When Malorie and her children go outside for brief periods, they do so blindfolded. Now Malorie has decided that the time is right for them to flee their refuge. The author uses understatement and allusion to create a lean, spellbinding thriller that Stephen King fans will relish.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[A] chilling debut… Malerman…keeps us tinglingly on edge with his cool, merciless storytelling [and] douses his tale in poetic gloom….An unsettling thriller, this earns comparisons to Hitchcock’s The Birds, as well as the finer efforts of Stephen King and cult sci-fi fantasist Jonathan Carroll.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Holy crap!  I have not been so immediately taken up in a story since…I can’t even remember when….Malerman does what every writing teacher anywhere will tell do over and over again: show, don’t tell.  Which is incredible because the main characters are voluntarily blind, wearing blindfolds and sleeping under cover, shutting their sight away for fear of being pulled down into an unspeakable madness that has shut the world down.  Awesome.”
— Charity McMaster, Schuler Books, Grand Rapids, MI

“OH MY GOD!  I read it all last night.  This is what horror should be; tense, creepy, and real.  I cannot describe how good this book is.”
— David Bryce, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

I stayed up all last night and finished Bird Box.  It was AMAZING.  It truly was for fans of McCarthy and classic King…. It blended the perfect amount of suspense with excellently crafted characters and a dash of end-of-the-world chaos.  I can’t get over how well it was written.  I am not usually frightened by novels but this one had me checking over my shoulder every few pages.  The great language and buildup of suspense made the story come alive in a way that is usually difficult for horror novels. This book was just a lot of fun.  Definitely a staff pick.”
–Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“Josh Malerman has written a literary horror novel that actually chills.  The conceit that you can’t see something or you die is fascinating, creating oodles of atmosphere by not allowing the characters (and by proxy, the reader) to know what is around him/her.  The proverbial thing in the darkness could be all around you or nowhere close; the ambiguity is what is so frightening….  It was a terrific, scary read, and it comes closer to the writing of HP Lovecraft or Thomas Tessier than anything I have read in a long while!”
— Bill Carl, The Booksellers on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, OH

“Malorie is a girl not much unlike myself until strange rumors pop up on the internet. People are taking other’s lives, then their own, destroying everything in their path after something seen. By the time it’s clear that something is a someone, Malorie is 5 months pregnant with a group of grieving strangers who can’t look outside. Malerman’s narrative reads like Stephen King with a Hemingway punch: curt, precise, and thrilling. Tinged with flecks of Golden Age era Sci-Fi, Bird Box gives realistic insight into living in a world where opening your eyes could drive you mad.”
— Ashanti Wallace, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

Josh Malerman’s Bird Box is genius.  The beautiful characterizations move around a simple, elegant premise: to see these monsters is to know madness and death.  How does the human race survive without its ability to look at the world? The author takes us through this dangerous landscape with great skill.  I raced through this book in just a few hours. Malerman has created a benchmark work of the horror genre.”
— Karen Tallant, Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

“Yes, it is Midnight. Yes, I should probably in bed. But I’m not because I just finished Bird Box & I am now too paranoid to sleep. I think this should be a sign that Josh Malerman accomplished his job. I will totally be pushing this book….I need to go cover my windows now.”
— Amanda Beverly, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“I’m not a fan of horror or suspense, but this book is wonderful, as in goose bumps in the middle of the afternoon more than once.  Malerman deftly balances highly evocative descriptive passages with tensions created in our minds as we wonder what’s going on out of sight. Very well written – the characters are realistic, the pacing excellent, the threat real. I highly recommend Bird Box.”
— Allen Murphey, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

“The scariest possible world is the one created by the reader in his or her own mind….The motivating question at the heart of Josh Malerman’s impressive debut is, just what is out there?… One young mother, Malorie, has trained her four-year old twins to prepare for the day when they will flee their home by boat. The day when they will travel downriver — without sight and constantly pursued — in the hopes of finding a fabled civilization that may offer a safe haven and, more importantly, answers to the questions that plague them.”
— Katie Capaldi, Between the Covers, Harbor Springs, MI

 Bird Box (9780062259653) by Josh Malerman. $25.99 hardcover. 5/13/14 on sale.

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