Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig
Posted July 10, 2012on:
published in 2012
Where I got it: the library
Everyone is going crazy for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds. Action packed and with an engrossing premise, shattered characters, and Richard Kadrey-esque prose, it’s no wonder this little book is getting a lot of attention.
Although a growing number of people are fascinated by her, Miriam Black wishes she could just disappear. As an adolescent, she gained the power to tell people the circumstances of their death. Perhaps the person lives until they are 95 and dies peacefully in their sleep. Perhaps it’s a housefire, or a drug overdose, or suicide. Living alone and on the run, she tries to avoid touching people. But of course it doesn’t work. Once upon a time she tried to save the life of a child whose death she’d foreseen. That didn’t work either.
Miriam comes off fairly crass, but it’s a facade. She’s not a mean person, she’s just really sick of shaking hands and seeing terrible visions in hospitals and bathroom floors. Her diary, nearly out of pages, is the only therapy she has, the only way she can get these feelings and fears and self hatred out of her system.
Miriam isn’t the nicest person in the world, so it’s doubly unfortunate that she’s mostly surrounded by assholes. Frat boys looking to get laid, truckers who might rape her, violent drug addicts, the scum below the bottom crust of society. Miriam doesn’t expect to meet anyone nice. And then she meets Louis, and everything changes. Louis is a completely normal, kind man. And in the moment before his death, he calls Miriam’s name.
Thus begins a fast paced, nicotine fueled, high octane adventure. In a misguided attempt to save his life, Miriam wants to get as far away from Louis as possible, but how can she run from the one kind person she’s met in years? This is the man who could save her life, who through his utter normalness could bring her back from her own precipice. Throw in one stupid con-artist and a few crazed drug dealers who make an art out of ultraviolence, and you’ve got the recipe for one helluva rollercoaster.
So, did I like it? I finished it in less than 24 hours, so it must have been at least decent, but it didn’t blow my mind.
what? Everyone and their brother is saying how wonderful Blackbirds is! but it just didn’t do it for me. And I’ll tell you why. First off, through no fault of the author, this book has been hyped to death, and thus suffered the same fate Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus did. All that hype raised my expectations through the roof. My friend’s eyes lit up when he told me about the book. All the reviews on Amazon are glowing. Hype isn’t always your friend.
But my bigger problem was Miriam. I absolutely could not stand her. So much so that I almost didn’t finish this book. Well, I did finish it, and then wrote a vague blog post about unlikeable protagonists. Yes, I get it, she’s shattered. Yes, i get it, she has this horrible life that she’s desperately trying to escape, that she’s got this horrific power that’s just about destroyed any hopes of living a normal life.Yes, I get it that she practically glows with self hatred and mommy issues and all sorts of angry fuckeduppery. I got it so much, that I didn’t need to be reminded of it on every page. I know the constant reminders were supposed to be characterization, but for me they just screamed heavy handedness.
And then there is the Richard Kadrey style prose. Don’t know what that is? Know how some books have prose so beautiful that you feel inspired? Prose that makes you want to write poetry or kiss a loved one, or listen to beautiful music? To get an idea of Wendig’s prose style think the opposite. This style of writing isn’t a scapel that has you bleeding before you realize it, this is more a jagged rusty machete that’s still covered in gore from its last victim. I wasn’t offended by the language or the casual sex or the ultraviolence. I simply didn’t care.
Those last two paragraphs made me sound like an elitist bitch, didn’t they? Like all I enjoy reading is fluffy happy stuff populated by friendly characters and poetry. Not so. I have a major soft spot for terrible and immoral people. (see: Abercrombie, Lawrence, Polansky, and of course Lynch) I usually do just fine with the gritty ultraviolence and foul language. Whatever recipe Wendig used, that flavor of grit just didn’t work for me.
On a positive note, there was this great little interview of Wendig in the back of the book. Make sure you get an edition that has this extra. The interview offers a deeper look into the inspirations of the story, and where some of the minor characters came from. I think if I had read that interview first I may have enjoyed the book better.
If you were thinking about reading Blackbirds and then you read this post and changed your mind, change your mind right back to where it was. You shouldn’t let my negative reaction stop you from giving it a try. Get it from the library, read 20 pages. If you like it, keep going. But if you don’t care for it, don’t feel bad about it.
Seriously, when is Levar Burton going to do a Reading Rainbow for grown ups?