A Bird in the Hand Is Worth Two in the… Box?

SPOILER WARNING!

Bird Box is a popular thriller movie on Netflix starring Sandra Bullock. My first instinct when hearing about a popular movie is to wonder if it was based on a book, then if it was, read the book. I won’t watch the movie unless it’s something I really think I’d like.

Yes, Bird Box was indeed based on a book by Josh Malerman. I wrote briefly about another book of his in one of my Thursday Three posts, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to read Bird Box: I liked that other book quite a bit.

In brief, the book takes its readers through a horrifying end-of-the-world scenario about a mysterious creature that, when seen by humans, makes said humans go insane and commit suicide. Sounds happy and sunshiny, right? Of course not. But as you can imagine, Bird Box was a difficult read for such a short, fast-paced book. I almost put it down because the creepiness of the situation made me so uncomfortable… and the only reason I ever put a book down is because it is hopelessly boring and I can’t force myself through it.

However, I pressed on with Bird Box, mostly to find out exactly what the creatures were that were causing all the madness. Alas, I found nothing. We never do find out. This is reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, where the creature is awful beyond comprehension—so awful that the author can’t even describe it. That technique always seemed like a cop-out to me. You’re the author, right? You’re supposed to describe the thing and allow the reader to see it!

The characters didn’t impress me. The heroine, Malorie, was brave beyond anything that could have been considered realistic. She raised two babies from their birth until age 4 without them ever opening their eyes (lest they see the awful, terrible, very bad creatures), without having any contact with any other human beings, and surviving on only the most minimal provisions. It was outrageously unrealistic, almost to the point of being offensive, as was the giving birth scene. The postpartum depression must have been almost as bad as being attacked by one of the creatures. (Hmm… maybe the entire book was an allegory about the terrors of pregnancy and the postpartum period? That would be an interesting analysis…)

Also, because Bird Box is a horror story, online reviewers made the inevitable comparison to Stephen King. I don’t see how anyone who has read anything by Stephen King can make that comparison. Perhaps the only way the two books were similar is that terrible things kept happening. I would say that Bird Box is more of a thriller, and most of Stephen King’s books are way too long and slow burning to be thrillers. King is also much, much better at character development and keeping plots realistic (but still horrifying).

I can’t recommend this book, unless you’re a huge fan of the horror or thriller genres. It just didn’t work for me. Even so, I will try another book by Malerman, because the other book I read from him was just that good.

At the Mercy of Children

SPOILER ALERT!

So I finally got around to reading Stephen King’s Under the Dome. (Yes, I know there was a TV mini-series, but I don’t think I’ll ever watch it.) In short, I liked the premise of the book and enjoyed the experience of rushing through it to see how Mr. King would wrap up all the craziness he’d created, but the ending was sort of a bummer.

Big Jim Rennie was probably one of the best King villains I’ve read about in a while. He’s your (stereo)typical slimy used car dealer, and to make matters worse, a hypocrite of the highest order. I wanted so badly for him to have a much more gruesome death than he actually did. Having him die alone haunted by the “ghosts” of the people he killed did not in any way justify the hell he unleashed upon the other characters, as if actually being under the dome wasn’t bad enough for them.

I didn’t like the idea of alien “leatherhead” children using the dome as a kind of experiment just to get their kicks, the same way that human children would burn ants under a magnifying glass.* Because the town of Chester’s Mill was basically a huge meth lab, I wanted the dome to be some kind of byproduct of all those chemicals. Wouldn’t that have been a positive anti-drug message? Yes, but that’s not what we got. Instead, we got a sermon on how we should treat ants and those smaller than us with respect because you never know: they might have quite complex lives after all, just like us. (I mean, it wasn’t a bad message, but it wasn’t quite big enough and loud enough to match the bigness and loudness of the book. I suppose it was too “literary” for mainstream horror/sci-fi.)

King also tried to be charitable toward Republicans by making one of the heroines a Republican journalist. However, he was not in the least charitable toward Christians, whom he often portrays as a bunch of mindless sheep who can be very cruel and unaware of how hypocritical they are acting. I find it somewhat unfair, but hey… everyone has their bias, right? King also uses his typical tactic of having a young kid save the day—or at least prove himself to be smarter than most of the adults. I like that trope of his because it is nice to see an underdog pull through and have a victory.

The best parts of the book were the fast pace and the interesting characters. There was literally never any downtime. It was one death right after another, and just when you thought the carnage would be over for a few pages, it started right back up again in the next paragraph, which of course made the book nearly impossible to put down. I kept comparing it to my favorite Stephen King book, Needful Things, mostly because it centered on the destruction of one small town and followed a multitude of raucous characters. However, Needful Things had the satisfying ending that Under the Dome did not.

I’d recommend Under the Dome if you want a big, juicy book to keep you turning the pages on a boring car ride or maybe on the beach. It’s so gory at times that you almost feel like a sick person for enjoying it so much… then you wonder about the author’s sanity.

*As much as I disliked the ending, it was incredibly accurate because when I was much younger, I used to pull the legs and wings off Japanese beetles, mostly because there were so darn many of them and they destroyed my mother’s rosebushes, so they were basically Public Enemy Number 1. At one point when I got a bit older, I realized that as gross and destructive as the bugs were, they were living creatures that felt pain and had lives, no matter how short and seemingly useless. When I realized that, I let all the Japanese beetles out from the glass jar where I kept them… under the dome. So I was one of those creepy leatherhead alien kids after all. So reassuring.

My Blasphemous Exorcism

SPOILER ALERT!

My Best Friend’s Exorcism. With a title like that, how could you not want to read it? I thought the book would make an excellent indie movie with weird Tarantino-like special effects. The library classified it as horror, but I wouldn’t quite put it in that category; it was actually fairly difficult to categorize. I would’ve called it chick-lit with some comedy, gross-out moments, and the right amount of suspense. The horror only came through in about the last quarter of the book, but the first part was fast-paced enough to keep readers interested. Like Ready Player One, which I read about a week ago, this book was full of 80s references because it actually took place in the 80s. All of the chapter titles came from lyrics of popular 80s songs.

The author (Grady Hendrix) absolutely nailed the teenage dialogue. He did a far better job of this than many YA authors, and I was disappointed that this book wasn’t categorized as YA. I think I know why: because it was too genuine. YA is normally watered down and offers a mere simulacrum of what the teenage experience is actually like. As far as I know, he captured the essence of Charleston (South Carolina) pretty well, too, but what was really impressive was his successful use of a female main character when he is not a female. I had to keep reminding myself that the author was in fact a man.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book (and this is totally biased and says more about me than it does about the book) was that the exorcism was not performed by a Catholic priest. Some motivational speaker/weight-lifting preacher performed it, but he bailed out halfway through, leaving the main character to perform the exorcism herself, using the “holy symbols” of the friendship rather than the typical holy water and prayers. As a matter of fact, the whole “ritual” was actually pretty blasphemous. That being said, the book also did a great job of portraying the undying love between two best friends, which is not something you read about in most novels or even in real life. Many times, women and girls feel as though they have to compete with each other, so they lie and backstab and generally act like bitches to stay on top. (Some of this bitchery did happen in the novel, but it was all cleared up at the end.)

Highly recommended if you want something that’s purely entertaining. You won’t learn a darn thing from this book, but it’s a ton of fun. There are some disgusting scenes, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating or if you get grossed out easily.