Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Review by Ryan Lawler
Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.
But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.
No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
Chuck Wendig is a bit of an internet sensation, his blog posts are widely followed, he gives very forthright advice to writers, and he doesn’t back down from an argument. Just like his blog posts, Wendig doesn’t pull any punches in his fiction, and Blackbirds is a testament to this style of writing. Blackbirds is a very confronting and in your face book about a girl with a trucker mouth who can see how you die… and will wait until you die so she can steal your belongings. Call her immoral, a thief, a vulture, or whatever you want, but Miriam Black is a survivor in a world that has been cruel to her, she does what she must just to make sure she wakes up sane every morning.
The story starts off in a dark motel room, our main character Miriam Black having seduced her way in to this man’s room on the promise of some wild sex. She has seen how he is going to die, and it is about to happen in 3… 2… 1… This is what life is like for Miriam Black – make brief skin to skin contact with someone, experience the vision of that person dying, write down the date, time and details of their death, and then make sure you are there to scavenge whats left. Its a life that works for her. But that life is turned upside down when a trucker she bumps into provides a vision where he dies screaming out her name. She doesn’t like that, not one bit, and she is forced to confront that question that has plagued her since her ability first manifested – can she change the outcome of her visions? This is a great story, it is told with a tense thriller feel to it, punctuated by some visceral action sequences and some very clever uses of the "death vision". I like the whole “death vision” magic systems that Wendig has going on here. He gives enough so that you know exactly what it is that Miriam can do, gives you a slight indication of how it works, and leaves it at that. He doesn’t bother about trying to figure out where it comes from because his main character doesn’t really where it comes from, she just cares about making sure she can take advantage of it.
The characterisation in this book is dense. Wendig writes in such a way that you get a raw insight into the personality of all his characters, and combined with his unique writing style (discussed below) it makes them feel so real. If anything, there might be too much characterisation in this book, just a bit too much navel gazing, and not enough left to the imagination. For example, the main character Miriam Black is an absolute, I feel like I know her so well, and because of that there is a bit too much predicatbility in her decision making. Other reviewers have had some issues not with the predictability but with the personality Miriam was imbued with. They say Miriam is too of a man’s idea about what a woman should be rather than being a realistic representation of a woman. I’m not sure I agree with those people at all, Miriam’s personality, motivations, thought patterns, and everything that goes along with it are clear for everyone to see. Wendig isn’t making a statement on how he perceives women, he is showing how a bunch of really bad things shaped his character, Miriam, so unless these reviewers have ever been a woman who can see how you die, who had a nasty childhood, and who lives as a scavenging hitch hiker, im not sure they can authoritatively say that Wendig got it wrong.
The writing, wow. I have not read anything that even resembles the writing style used by Wendig. He writes in the 3rd person but present tense, and it is weird to experience at first. The language he uses is in effect an interpretation of Miriam Black’s personality. It is vulgar, coarse, terse, in your face, confronting, unforgiving, and then moves on, never spending much time dwelling on past events. When he isn’t using Miriam as a POV character, or when he is doing the interview interludes, the style changes to fit that character. It is such a multidimensional way of writing, it really helps to enhance some already great characterisation.
Blackbirds is rough, it’s coarse, its full of some quite confronting scenes and is definitely not the book for people who are looking for a light hearted romp through a magical fairy land. In fact, if you have any sort of morals in your body, this book will find a way to offend at least one of them. And I really like that. Blackbirds dares you to get down and dirty, dares you to like this miscreant from the wrong side of the tracks, and by the end you will either love her or you will hate her. Blackbirds is a unique experience, you should really give it a try.
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