Books and Authors

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.

Books and Authors

A Door That Shouldn’t Be Opened

SPOILER warning!

I finished Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris a couple weeks ago, which is the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The only reason I’d give it even 2 out of 5 stars is because I was so desperate to read fiction that it seemed excellent. Kind of like when you’re really hungry and even that cardboard-like leftover pizza from five days ago is wonderful.

Anyway, Behind Closed Doors is the typical domestic violence thriller, pitting husband against wife. Grace is a 30-something woman, and her younger sister, Millie, has Down syndrome. Grace is finding it difficult to get a decent guy who accepts her and her sister. Her dreams appear to have come true when Jack Angel appears out of nowhere, dances with Millie at the park, then asks Grace out. Of course, is the perfect guy: good-looking, intelligent, and makes a ton of money as a highfalutin lawyer who defends battered women. Naturally, Grace falls for him, and in a matter of only three months, he asks her to marry him. She accepts. Her life becomes hell.

My first thought upon learning that the villain’s name was Jack Angel was “well, that’s a screamingly obvious technique to reveal that a seemingly good guy is in fact the bad guy.” Turns out that Jack is not actually his real name but a “clever” alias he developed for himself after he murdered his own mother. Classy guy.

I found it a bit unbelievable that Grace would end up marrying Jack in the first place. She supposedly had a lot of experience with dating, so you’d think she would know the warning signs, or her “creep radar” would start going off. But if you read the literature about psychopaths, which Jack revealed himself to be in short order, you know that they are initially charming and adept at fooling people. The entire time I was reading the book, I was picturing Jack looking something like Ted Bundy.

Behind Closed Doors is the kind of book in which you want to reach inside the fictional world and and kill the character yourself. It was also the kind of book that makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you’re reading it, because you’re waiting for the next horrible thing to befall the protagonist. I didn’t particularly care for that kind of suspense vibe because everything that happened to Grace was just plain sick. Jack ended up wanting to get to Millie because she would be easier to scare (being that she had Down syndrome), and he apparently lives off the feeling of fear that he invokes in his victims. Fortunately nothing happened Millie, but just the thought that Jack would hurt her was very off-putting, like the author was making a cheap shot at people with disabilities.

Most suspense novels are incredibly fast paced and don’t have much description of settings and characters. Both applied to Behind Closed Doors, which I finished in less than 24 hours. Because there was so little description, it was hard to picture anything beyond Ted Bundy in an immaculate house torturing Grace, who I vaguely imagined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. At a couple points in the book, the characters traveled to Thailand, but I couldn’t picture it at all from the author’s (lack of) description.

Other reviews have made comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but Behind Closed Doors was not as good or as memorable. What would have been more interesting is if the story had been written from Jack’s perspective; I would have liked to know more about his backstory. I suspect he was lying when he told Grace that he killed his mother. It is also rare to read a book from the perspective of the villain, especially a book in this genre.

Basically, I’d recommend this one if you have a few hours to kill or if for some reason, you want to feel very uncomfortable. Other than that… stay away from it.

Books and Authors

Feeling Tricked

Spoiler warning!

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was so ridiculously hyped up that I had to read it (three years after it was published, but I rarely read books as soon as they’re published). The book turned out, and I expected that it would, to be one of those stories with an unreliable narrator (actually two), so I felt manipulated and tricked by the author. From the first page, I knew some crazy twists were about to go down, so I steeled myself for the whiplash that I knew lay ahead.

I’m not saying that Gone Girl was a bad book (maybe 3.5 out of 5 stars). The writing style was excellent, and even if the plot turned out to be totally disappointing, I would have still read the book for the turns of phrase alone. The two main characters were very well developed, and the book’s insight into relationships and the human condition was spot on.

But I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. Amy murdered Desi, but as with everything else, she got away with it, despite Desi’s mother insisting that Amy killed her son outright. Then Amy thinks she can win Nick back (or at least force him to stay with her for 18 years) because she got pregnant using Nick’s sperm that the couple had stored years earlier. Something tells me that there ought to be a sequel, but I also don’t want to see this poor kid get mentally tortured and messed up by his psychopathic mother.

So I really hope that there is no sequel. As addicting as Gone Girl was, I don’t think I could take much more of Amy’s torturous ways.