So I finally read "Birdbox" It's ….. not a good book. The characters are so cardboard that they make SpongeBob SquarePants look like Macbeth. The dialogue is mundane to the point of blankness. In fact, this whole book is forgettable. Just writing this review I assumed that the main character's name is Michelle. It's not. It's Malorie. Thank goodness I looked it up. That's how forgettable everything and everybody in this book is.
It is a scary book though. This book is meant to be a horror novel and it succeeds in bringing the horror. It checks that box. But it also makes me suddenly appreciate books like "World War Z" which is not only a horror novel but very well-written, full of great settings, characters and realistic dialogue... or realistic enough when combined with zombies that is. A horror novel that brings the horror and nothing else (and even the horror is not quite satisfying in spots for reasons that I will go into later) can come off being very depressing. Like just watching a four hour documentary about 19th century slaughterhouses. Bloody, horrifying, and in the end numbing with no real contentment.
In the beginning of the book "Birdbox" Josh Malerman tries to turn up the heat on the fearful atmosphere waaaay too early. The apocalypse starts in Russia. A mother in Siberia sees something, goes insane, and kills her family and herself. Then in the Ukraine a truck driver sees something, goes insane and chews through his co-worker's neck before killing himself. At this point the entire world is afraid. People in Michigan put blankets over their windows and blindfold their eyes when they go outside. The entire world is on alert, because a few people went nuts in Russia. That's just dumb, and not how things work in real life. Right now as I type this close to a thousand people have died in the Congo from an Ebola outbreak and as far as I know Americans aren't even washing their hands more often. If a rabies outbreak kills 200 in Belarus and Ivanka accidentally flashes her panties on Twitter, guess which story the evening news is gonna lead with.
In the book "Birdbox" a young woman named Malorie is shut up in a house with five or six (don't remember the number, don't really care) individuals while the world outside is stalked by mysterious "creatures." I don't really know who the other characters in the house are despite the fact that 60% of "Birdbox" involves the taut psychological atmosphere within the household v. the monsters outside. That sort of indicates how badly the book is written. There are guys in the house named "Jules" and "Felix" and "Don" and "Victor" (oh wait, Victor was the dog) and a woman named "Cheryl." Don't ask me what defines these characters. They're all pretty much the same. Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bofur and Nori in "The Hobbit" had more memorable unique characterizations than Jules, Felix, Don and Cheryl.
The monsters in "Birdbox" are called the "creatures." Nobody knows what these creatures look like exactly because anyone who sees them goes immediately insane and kills themselves and everyone around them. One character describes the creatures as "Infinity." "Creatures..... infinity... our minds have ceilings, Malorie.... these things.... they are beyond it.... higher than it.... out of reach."
As I said before, "Birdbox" competently brings the horror. It meets the minimum requirement for a horror novel. The writing, plot, and characters are so bad, however, that the horror is blunted in certain scenes and even kind of unintentionally hilarious. One man is determined to see a creature. He records a creature on videotape and then decides to watch the tape while tied to his chair to keep himself from committing suicide, like Ulysses tied to the mast while listening to the songs of the Sirens. This guy isn't as lucky as Ulysses, however. As his friend later describes: "He'd pressed so hard against the ropes that they had gone THROUGH his muscles all the way to the bone. His entire body looked like cake frosting, blood and skin folded over the ropes in his chest, his belly, his neck, his writes, his legs." Forgive me if I find that funny. It's just stupid because it's impossible. Ropes can't do that. Maybe if the guy were tied with concertina wire, probably, but not ropes. Speaking as someone who has seen seatbelted car passengers unclick their belts and walk away from a car accident where the car went from 70 mph to 0 mph in a hurry, restraints don't work that way on the human body. The restrained human body doesn't turn into "cake frosting." It's just physically impossible, insanity or not.
The concept of a force causing humans to spontaneously commit mass suicide was done already, and better, by M. Night Shyamalan's 2008 movie "The Happening." Now granted that movie had its share of silliness but trust me when I say that the movie "The Happening" is better, more visually amazing, and more original than the book "Birdbox." The fact that plants are releasing poison pollen to make humans commit suicide is at least a good concept. Saying that humans are committing mass suicide/ homicide through creatures that may be aliens or trans-dimensional beings or even just natural phenomena not encountered before (this is never explained in the book) is a half-baked concept. It needs to be reworked a bit more. Also, "The Happening" was released in 2008 and "Birdbox" was published in 2014 so I think M. Night Shyamalan may have decent grounds for a copyright infringement lawsuit against Josh Malerman here.
In conclusion, watch "The Happening." Watch the Netflix movie "Birdbox." Don't read the book. This is one of those rare occasions where reading the book will definitely make you more stupid than watching TV.