Lately, most of the books I’ve been reading have come from recommendations that other authors I like are also reading. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig has come highly praised from a whole lot of corners of the internet. Wendig himself is one of this batch of authors I’ve been finding lately on ye olde internets that are selling me as people first, getting me interested in the stories they have to tell long before I hold ink and paper in hand. So in addition to being one of the more interesting people I follow on twitter, his writing is a swear filled festival of awesome.
What time is it? It’s 943. So what?? I type slow and had to feed the infant. But it’s also Back of the Book Time!
Miriam Black knows when you will die.
Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.
Miriam has given up trying to save people – that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
Oh my that sounds like the sort of thing that will mess a person up and holy crap Miriam is messed up. But by no means take that as a knock against the readability of Blackbirds. I don’t think I’ve ever read a protagonist as emotionally broken as Miriam. We don’t just get this emotional fragility first hand, it’s shoved into our faces, uncomfortably close, bleeding and slobbering all over your shirt while saying “eat a dick.”
This in-your-face fragility is oddly endearing. You just want to give Miriam a hug even though she’s swearing like a sailor. Actually out-swearing a sailor. I actually work in a shipyard, a sausage fest of crusty old men, and Miriam could put all of us to shame on our best swearing day. I never felt it was shock value though. Or more accurately, I never felt it was Wendig’s shock value. Miriam wants to shock people as a barrier to keep them at arms reach. Swearing as characterization, not gratuity.
There really is a lot to like about Blackbirds though. The book is mostly Miriam’s point of view, part of the whole in-your-face thing I mentioned above. Wendig weaves in these interludes which provide a bit of a break from the plot with some backstory. There’s a guy named Paul who interviews Miriam. I get the strange sense that he’s the author cameo. The interlude between 32 and 33 is actually one of the funniest chapters in the book. It really shouldn’t be because it’s actually gruesome, but in such a matter of fact tone, it becomes absurdest.
And that’s one of the talents Wendig’s got going here which I didn’t consciously think of until now. He’s taking the gruesome, the brutal, the sleightly horrible, and turning these things upside down. The tone and storytelling wordsmithing makes you ok with hacksawed legs and a fishknife in the brain. I feel like the whole novel is like the most beautiful train wreck you’ve ever seen, moving ever so slowly and getting ever so better looking the throughout.
So waxed prophetically about Miriam’s teetering state of being a lot. But what about the plot? What in the hell is she actually doing this whole time? There’s a philosophical battle with Fate going on. That’s capital F Fate. It’s not Incarnations of Immortality with a physical person acting as Fate, but it’s a very specific force at play here. It has it’s own rule set, even if we don’t quite get to see all of the rules in play. There’s a couple layers to all that’s going on and we get them pulled back slowly.
I feel like I’m shortchanging this book with this abbreviated amount of musing. But there is a very blurry line between talking about this and giving away too much. This book is too awesome to risk giving anything away as spoilers. After all this I’m still left with questions regarding Miriam. I can’t tell you what they all are, but it’s an appropriate amount of questions. I walked away from Blackbirds supremely satisfied. Angry Robot isn’t putting out the sequel, Mockingbird, until August so at least we’ve not long to wait to find out all these answers.
So as much as I have been hamstrung by my aversion to spoilers, all the praise this book has been getting is 143% justified.
As a related tangent, the cover is a work of art. Joey HiFi, out of South Africa who has also done covers for other Angry Robot authors, has set me out on a quest to find a frame to put my book in. It’s the most gorgeous cover I’ve seen in years.
Carpet noodle. Always carpet noodle. It makes sense now.