Author: Josh Malerman
Rating: 5 Stars
Review By: Shana
Malerman's debut novel certainly does not come across as a rookie endeavor. Instead, it is an excellent blend of SF and horror, playing on uncertainty and fear of the unknown and unseen. Our main character is a young woman named Mallory, and from the first chapter we know she is facing some unfathomable danger in a world both familiar and dissonant to our own, where venturing outside requires blindfolds, and a trip on a river holds both promise and dread.
Malerman is masterful, managing to engulf the reader in the story without revealing the source of the horror (or, more accurately, the creature that must be left unseen lest the viewer plunges into madness marked by homicide and then suicide). He carefully constructs the narrative, bouncing from events four and a half years earlier with the present-day effort of Mallory to find some measure of safety for the two, unnamed children in her care. The opening chapter plunges the reader into an altered world, where windows are anathema, blindfolds are protection, and answers are out of reach. Society seems crippled and mostly dead, and unknown creatures walk the world - but these creatures are not terrifying because they physically assault or stalk humans (they don't seem to), but because the mere sight of them seems to inflict madness.
In the alternating chapters, we see via flashback to the days when scattered and unsubstantiated reports trickle in of people going mad, killing others, and then killing themselves. Then expertly jogging forward in time again, we come to know that the present-day Mallory is alone with two children (but not how she came to be sole parent in these dreadful times) and that she believes all three of them must brave a 20 mile river passage while blindfolded to try to find safety. In the flashbacks, we find Mallory and her sister living unremarkable lives. Then, as the news stories come faster and inexplicable events become more common and creep ever closer to their Detroit home, Mallory realizes she is pregnant.
The flashback chapters depict a world falling apart, first slowly and then with extreme rapidity. We follow Mallory as she tries to find refuge with others, life in a new house, pregnancy waxing, and the tension ratchets as the reader knows that Mallory's time in this cooperative home, with support and help, are moving ever closer to the unknown catastrophe that leaves her alone with two children.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...