6 BOOKS LIKE BIRD BOX THAT WILL CREEP YOU OUT

I have always loved horror. The poorly-written mass market paperbacks I pulled from my father’s shelves. The B-horror flicks I watched in dark basements. The books and movies that suggested that true horror lived within everyday people.

But lately, I’ve been particularly transfixed by horror that focuses on feelings of claustrophobia and unseen menace. As a grownass adult whose day-to-day fears revolve around being trapped by the consequences of my terrible decisions (schedule shift; career move; poor spending choice; ill-advised parenting tactic), this seems apt. And perhaps no book has embodied these fears as perfectly as Josh Malerman’s Bird Box.

When I first read Bird Box, a work of literary horror that has since been adapted (and quite well) by Netflix, it was just a few months before my daughter was born, a life change that would shrink my world, leave me feeling at times constricted. Even four years later, she is so needy it often seems as if she’s trying to crawl back inside my body. So when I read Malerman’s book, there was something in me that connected to the story.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the Netflix adaptation, here’s the gist: An unseen menace causes people to become violent and suicidal. After a time, it is determined that victims go crazy when they look upon these creatures. As a result, survivors remain in boarded-up houses, with papered-up windows. They go on supply runs with blindfolds over their eyes. Their world shrinks and, in this miniaturized life they are forced to live, they don’t even know what it is they fear.They don’t know what their monster looks like.

It’s a delicious mix of claustrophobia, blindness, and a fear of the unknown. Are there other books like Bird Box? Which ones bring that same brand of terror?

6 books like BIRD BOX to creep you the heck out. book lists | scary books | creepy books | horror books | books like BIRD BOX

THE BEST BOOKS LIKE BIRD BOX

The Mist by Stephen King - 6 Books Like Bird BoxTHE MIST BY STEPHEN KING
Let me just get this one out of the way. King has a number of titles beneath his belt in which the main protagonist finds himself trapped in an untenable situation. The one that reminds me most of what went down in Bird Box is The Mist, a novella about a small town enveloped by a strange mist, in which terrible creatures seem to be skulking about. Most of the action takes place in a supermarket in which a number of townspeople find themselves trapped. As these people, thrust together by circumstance, grapple with what’s going on—and what they should do next—tensions explode. Will anyone make it out alive?

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - 6 Books Like Bird BoxTHE GREAT ALONE BY KRISTIN HANNAH
When I received an ARC of this book in the mail, I was unfamiliar with Hannah’s work. I had no clue she was a New York Times bestselling author with approximately eleventy-billion published novels on her résumé. But I was immediately bewitched by this story of this coming-of-age story in which a small family moves to the wilds of Alaska in order to start anew. Unfortunately, there’s no leaving behind the inner demons of the family’s patriarch, a former POW. In this book-length fight for survival, the barren landscape isn’t the most dangerous thing the young protagonist needs to fear. This isn’t a horror novel, but it is horrifying.

 

Blindness by Jose Saramago - 6 Books Like Bird BoxBLINDNESS BY JOSÉ SARAMAGO
Where in Bird Box, characters were forced to blindfold themselves when outside so as to avoid glimpsing the thing that drove others mad, Saramago’s book is about literal blindness. A city is hit by an epidemic of blindness. Those afflicted are confined to an empty mental hospital, but the conditions there are brutal. Meanwhile, one woman who has miraculously retained her sight struggles to guide a group of strangers through this terrible new wilderness, made even more terrible by how it has empowered others to embrace the worst in themselves.

 

Cover of Blind DescentBLIND DESCENT BY JAMES M. TABOR
Before Bird Box, I lost my shit over The Descent (the British horror film; not the book by Jeff Long upon which it is very loosely based). When I saw the film, I spent the entire one-hour-40-minute run time gasping for air as a group of female spelunkers—trapped in an uncharted, underground cave system—fought and strained to find a way out. There were monsters and jump scares in the film. But what was most terrifying was, again that sense of claustrophobia. Which is why Blind Descent, a work of narrative nonfiction on two scientist-explorers who find themselves trapped within the depths of massive cave systems, freaks me out so much.

 

Hye-young-Pyun The Hole | 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards | Book RiotTHE HOLE BY HYE-YOUNG PYUN
A man wakes up from a coma after causing a car accident that takes his wife’s life and leaves him paralyzed and badly disfigured. He is left in the care of his mother-in-law, who is bereft at the loss of her only child. Confined to his bed and neglected by his reluctant and resentful caretaker, he is left only with memories of his troubled marriage. “Yellow Wallpaper” much?

 

The Devil in Silver by Victoe LaValle - 6 Books Like Bird BoxTHE DEVIL IN SILVER BY VICTOR LAVALLE
And then there’s the book that first introduced me to LaValle’s work. In it, a group of inmates at a mental institution find themselves picked off one by one by a terrifying creature with the body of an old man and the head of a bison. But is the creature real, or just the result of group delusion? This book tackles many tough topics, among them the question of how and why our fears manifest.

By , February 
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Oh Poor Horror, Misunderstood: Josh Malerman on Horror’s New Generation

Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

Mother says you’re made up of witches and woods, brutal bloodletting, slashers in hoods. But I know better, having eaten my share, saved some for later, stashed under stairs.

Mixed ‘em and matched ‘em and made new pairs.

Mother doesn’t like you. She says you are trite! I try to convince her night after night. I beseeched her, “Dear Mother, open thy mind. Horror is no longer a word you will find so neatly packaged with stuffing and twine.”

“Leave me, dark child, with a full foamy stein.
And take your common monsters, speckled with teeth
Used so often they put me to sleep.
Take your old bones lying out in the rain
While I read something compelling and sane.”

Oh, poor horror, misunderstood.

I continued with Mother, as well as I could. My argument expanded to include books she deemed good. “Some say Jane Eyre is as much of a fright as Tanith Lee’s Dreams of Dark and Light. And some cite Melville as a man of such tales, for what could be scarier than a giant white whale? But never mind the classics, fuddy mother of mine, horror no longer grows on the vine Here, let me show you one of mine.”

Here I showed Mother Inspection of mine.

She huffed and she hawed until halfway she knew it, she lifted the book and she almost threw it, then brought it back down to the yarn on her knees, and read the second half at her ease.

“But this isn’t horror, rotten child of mine, for it has no vampires or inverted nines.”

“But Mother, you see! The word is elastic, and all us new writers are made of new plastic! We’ll write of such things, but not cause they’re gaudy, we’re interested in both the mind and the body. We thrill but we think, we’re intellectually naughty. We’re interested in both the mind and the body.”

Dear Mother then frowned and dismissed me again. But she hadn’t yet thrown the book in her hand.

“What does your kind know of the ways of the soul? Coming of age? Quality control? Leave me, braindead child, and take with you your trolls.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

I took leave as she ordered but for only so long, and returned with a stack of new songs.
A tower of books, a stack of new songs.

“Horror has changed, Dear Mother it’s true, it’s not the same now as it was for you. The genre is present as the ice in your drink, it’s come up through the pipes and the sink.”

Here Mother looked to the kitchen, to the sink, and I felt I’d made progress, had got her to think.

“The genre has fled from the castles of yore and is no longer steeped in bones and gore–though we love such elements, we love them, it’s true! But did you know the color blue could be as much monster as the thing in the brew? Did you know we see monsters in even baby blue?”

“The way you talk, it’s as if you see scares everywhere.”

“That’s it! That’s right! Even over there!”

I pointed to a corner where nothing was there.

Mother shook her head and pointed, too, a long wrinkled finger and said, “You, oh you. Do you think me so vulgar to believe such a thing? That your genre might be found on a butterfly’s wing?”

“But what better place–do not make a face–for your likeness may match the pattern of lace in the curtains of this room in which we debate, or the pattern indeed of the butterfly’s mate.”

“Oh!” Mother said, shaking her head. “Leave me, gross child, and take your undead. You speak as though you’d marry Dreary and Dread.”

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

“I’ll leave you, Dear Mother, I’ll go up to my bed. But not without repeating the things that I’ve said. For horror has risen from the graves of yore and can be found now in places never heard of before, or perhaps even the corners of this very room! A brand new monster in this very room!”

She looked to the corner and I felt I’d scored, but I’d need to describe what stood where the walls met the floor.

“Do you see it, Dear Mother? The crown of its head? Why, it’s not even a ghost, it’s not even dead. Nor is it invisible, as you’ve read of before. What stands in this room is More.”

More as a monster?” Mother laughed at me so. “But what sort of horror does More have in store?”

I crossed the room then.

“The livers are living but they still want More.
The lovers are loving but they still want More.
Mothers are presented with examples but they still want More.
Do you see, Dear Mother, we’ve made a monster of More?”

Mother seemed to consider, but did not look resigned.

“I told you,” I said, “the body and the mind.”

She set down my book, took the yarn from her lap, rose to a standing, and clapped a lone clap.

“Bedtime for me, ugly child of mine.” And she made for the staircase of antique pine.

Her opinion, I thought, as hard as the wood.

Oh poor horror, misunderstood.

But as she took the first step, and the step did shriek, she paused without turning to speak: “The way you see it, stairs could be horror. And a person who takes them, an explorer.”

She did turn then, and gave me a wink, nodded her head as if to rethink, then climbed the stairs and called over her shoulder, “Interesting child, you simmer and smolder–do all you new writers think this way? Horror in all things, every day?”

She stopped outside her bedroom up there, perhaps pondering a brand new scare.

“Yes, Dear Mother,” Dear Mother, I swore.

And she whispered, “Not bad,” before closing the door.