Thursday, February 19, 2015

Detroit Based Horror Fiction: Bird Box and Broken Monsters

With my novel MILK-BLOOD being distinctly and specifically based in Detroit, I've been keeping an especially watchful eye on other Detroit based pieces of Dark Fiction or Horror. Recently, two popular such books have been released, Bird Box, by Josh Malerman, who lives and sings and flings boomerangs in Detroit, and Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes, best-selling novelist from South Africa who realized Detroit is the perfect home for such creative despair. She certainly did her research. More on Broken Monsters later, first up is Bird Box.

Bird Box: Take a picture of this:

Creatures, or some type of monstrous presence, are making those who see them go mad. At least thats the consenus for those who survive, since they live on by not looking. Instead they stay blindfolded, putting blankets over the windows, and doing so as if their lives depend on it. Most are not so diligent, and madness kills in remarkable ways.

Bird-Box is a remarkable book. Apocalyptic,  but with the focus on one mother and how she survives. The story begins with her venturing for safety with her two children, all of them blindfolded, and the children trained on the art of audio detection. Chapters go back and forth to the backstory of the sanctuary she is leaving, and they link together wonderfully. At times when chapters begin, they brilliantly carry over sensory from the preceding chapters, but of a different time period, which makes the stories intersect with near magical realism.

The story read fast, smart, and the author's skills were on display. The author made me feel like a character in the story... and I don't mean just feel 'for' a character in a story, and empathize for them, but like I was trapped in the house with them, wearing a blind-fold. The handicap of not being able to see was terrifying and all my other senses were on fire. Like the characters of the story, my brain was awhirl with possibilities of what was out there. That was tremendous. I wanted to peek and see what was driving us all mad. So many passages were done with no visual imagery, which isn't easy, and could be boring, but not at all here. I had to pull out the Willy Wonka line as I was reading.... "the suspense is killing me. I hope it lasts."

There was more than one nice twist, some odd characters, some noble characters, and the expected infighting where it is your fellow human survivor, not the 'monsters', who become the one to fear.

Detroit landmarks are not especially visible, but they don't need to be. The isolation is there. The neighborhood feeling of both relying on your community yet fearing your community. There is outside evil on the street, living, walking, never fully seen but always present. Just to go outside is to risk your life, and you need to barricade the doors, and be suspicious of those who knock. But ultimately, it is the power of community and heroic acts to save our neighbors that may be the savior of these Detroit streets, as well as human kind in general. Some adventurous young urban spelunker needs to listen to the audiobook of Bird-Box while walking the streets of Detroit.

(Detroit is the city that recently banded together to give a man a car and nearly half a million dollars after it was found he had been walking 25 miles to work each day. This same man had to then leave his home and move due to fear of repercussions from neighbors who certainly would have broken down his windows and robbed him one night.)

Literary license is used to carry the riveting tone of Bird Box as the story gets frenetic towards the end. As great books do, this one does not reveal all its secrets, and doesn't let you see everything at the end that you might want. Then again, if you had seen everything, you would not be a survivor. You'd have bashed your own skull in with the closest blunt object you could find until brain matter dripped from your ears. So be glad for it.

Josh Malerman, from Detroit.  (Do you see what I see?)
The author is doing readings to blind-folded participants in the Detroit area. 

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