Josh Malerman's long-awaited Bird Box sequel is here. Can it top the insanity of the original?

By Clark Collis
May 11, 2020 at 01:34 PM EDT
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How does it feel to be a writer of apocalypse fiction when reality seems terrifyingly close to an end-times scenario? Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel, Bird Box, is set in a world infested with mysterious creatures whose very appearance drives people insane, meaning humans mostly stay indoors and wear blindfolds when they venture out. The staggering success of Netflix’s Sandra Bullock-starring 2018 movie adaptation inspired Malerman, 44, to write a sequel. The book, Malorie, is being published at a time when, because of a potentially fatal threat they cannot see, people are forced to stay indoors and wear protective attire when they do leave their homes.

“I had an odd moment the other day where I was absentmindedly going through things that we can’t do right now,” says Malerman. “You can’t go to band practice. You can’t go to that party. You can’t go and see that movie. Somewhere in there, I thought, ‘You can’t look outside.’ And then I was like, ‘Wait wait wait, no no no. That’s in your book. You’ve blurred your book and reality!’"

At the end of Bird Box, the book’s lead character, Malorie, finds sanctuary for herself and her two young children, Tom and Olympia, at a school for the blind, following an epic river journey. Malerman says that the bulk of the new book takes place “12 years since they arrived at the school. Tom and Olympia are 16 years old now, so Malorie is contending with teenagers in a really bizarre landscape.” The trio decides to embark on another highly dangerous quest after a visit from someone claiming to be a “census man.”

“Malorie receives a list of survivors and on that list are names that she recognizes,” says Malerman. “So begins a second enormous journey of Malorie’s life.”

Illustration by Francesco Francavilla for EW

Malerman sings and plays guitar with rock band the High Strung, whose track “The Luck You Got” is the theme song for the Showtime series Shameless. He wrote the first draft of Bird Box back in 2006 as a way of occupying himself when the group was on the road. “We toured the country like lunatics in our late 20s and early 30s — I wrote a number of books in the van,” says Malerman, whose other published novels include 2017’s Black Mad Wheel, about a band attempting to locate the source of a mysterious sound.

The Netflix adaptation of Bird Box became a pop culture phenomenon when it became the most-watched Netflix film over the course of its first week on the streamer in December 2018. “The movie was everywhere,” says Malerman. “It was like standing at the head of a wind tunnel.” The film, in turn, helped make the book a bestseller almost five years after it was initially published. The Ferndale, Mich.-based author reveals that the book’s success has changed his life in a couple of important ways. “It did a lot for me, and not just monetarily, though I bought a house,” he says. “It also changed something internally in terms of like, ‘Wow, that worked. You thought this was a good idea and other people thought it was a good idea.’"

The author began mulling a possible second book about Malorie, and the lethal world in which she lives, after viewing the film. “I’m watching the movie with my fiancée, Allison, at the Netflix office,” he says. “At the end of the movie, I looked over to Allison and I was like, ‘Well, now what happens to Malorie?’ [Laughs] And then she’s like, ‘I think that’s up to you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’"

Malerman initially planned on incorporating parts of Bird Box he had edited out of the book before it was published. “The original draft for it was about twice as long,” he says. “I [started] revamping those threads, but I ended up getting rid of those again. Malorie ended up becoming its whole own thing.”

But will readers want to return to a fictional world that now seems so much closer to our reality? “I find myself hesitant to make any comparison between Bird Box or Malorie with what’s happening right now,” says Malerman. “The world is freaked out, and justifiably so, and Bird Box and Malorie are supposed to be scary fun, right? But, in reading online, I have noticed there’s two camps. One is staying away from end-times fiction and the other is totally embracing it in this cathartic way. It’s like, ‘Oh, coronavirus, you’re not surprising us, we’ve thought of you!’"

Malerman reveals he might write a third book set in the Bird Box universe. “I don’t have any plans to do that right now, but I find myself really, really turned on and electrified whenever I do write in that world,” he says. Let’s hope by the time he does write a third book, that world will seem a little less like the real one.

Del Rey

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