the Little Red Reviewer

Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

Posted on: July 10, 2012

Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

published in 2012

Where I got it: the library

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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?

 

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21 Responses to "Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig"

Omg… Reading Rainbow for grown-ups would be the greatest thing ever.

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wouldn’t it? and since it was for grownups, it could have swear words. “i think this book was fucking awesome, but don’t take my word for it.”

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Yes. Yes. Yes. How do we convince Levar to do it?

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i just sent him a tweet asking about Reading Rainbow for grown ups. hey, a girl can dream, right?

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^ Yes, this. Reading Rainbow for grown-ups!

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I didn’t think I’d heard of this one, but seeing the picture of the cover I think that maybe I have come across it.

I often think that hype is the worst thing that can happen a book. I try to ignore it as much as possible, or at least if I hear *that* much about a book I’ll often wait a while before I read it.

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I can’t think of a single instance when hype was or is a good thing.

I wasn’t going to read it anyway, the only other thing I’d heard about it was also quite negative. Um, hate to be the really ancient fogey, but what is Reading Rainbow?

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The greatest show ever. It was Levar Burton talking about and reading kids books.

Also, according to Wikipedia (which may or may not be true), he’s totally shooting new episodes.

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Erm, not new episodes. Just an app. Darn. :(

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really? so far I’ve only heard glowing things, happy to hear I may not be the only one in my camp.

don’t know Reading Rainbow? I take it you weren’t watching much afternoon TV on PBS in the 80s/90s? the episode where Michael Dorn guest starred is still famous.

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I admit I skimmed your review because Blackbirds is on my ARC pile. I am now curious to see if I’ll like it or agree with you, though! We’ll have to reconvene after I’ve read it. :-)

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yes, we must discuss after you read it! but it is a pretty quick read, i think we will agree on that , at least.

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I’ve yet to read a bad review of Blackbirds – I should really add it to my list.

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See what I did there – I didn’t let the negative reaction stop me :) I like the premise but I think the self loathing and full on negative vibes might drag me down.

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Does it make me really weird that sometimes I prefer to read the negative reviews? It’s just they seem so much ‘more’ somehow. Also, was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what a reading rainbow is!
It’s a shame about this book – to be honest, I wasn’t going to pick it up anyway although that cover may have given me pause.
Hype – pah – no good can come from it – just look at what’s going on with 50 Shades – enough said!!
Lynn :D

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So understand something with Blackbirds just didn’t hit the spot.
Though still glad that read and would probably follow the series.

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This week on… Reading Rainbow for Grown ups… Lavar Burton reads A Game of Thrones… for 33 hours straight. I’m in. :)

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Oh thank you! I felt quite alone in not liking this book. My god, what a terrible book. I also hated Miriam and though the blood, sex and drugs weren’t used as plot devices but simply for shock value – which didn’t work at all.
And what little plot there was didn’t capture my attention. Honestly, all the characters could have died (including Miriam) and I just wouldn’t have cared. Best thing about this book? The cover!

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much agreed, the cover was the highlight of the book!

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You don’t sound like an elitist bitch at all :) I thought it was entertaining while I read it but in retrospect I have to agree with you. It’s packed with crude and gratuitous imagery and language. And Wendig’s style is harsh.

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