I first encountered Chuck Wendig on Litreactor when he was interviewed about his upcoming book. I began reading his very cool blog terribleminds and was hooked, so when his first full-length novel was released, I bought it for my Nook.
Well, I both enjoyed and disliked the book for several reasons. Perhaps reading it was a bit out of element though I can’t say anyone would not be. While it falls into the category “urban fantasy,” I read it more as a horror-drama with smatterings of snarky humor. In a moment, I’ll give you its high and low points, which seem intricately intertwined.
Here is the Amazon low-down:
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 Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.
Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But 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.
The premise is probably one of the best things about this novel, not because it is entirely unique, but because of the approach Wendig takes. So she can see how you’ll die, but hey, instead of saving you, I’ll hook up with you and then rob your dead body. We encounter Miriam while she’s travelling cross-country, conning sleazy men so she can thieve from their corpses. She’s vile, dirty, and caustically sarcastic– not to mention a bit hilarious. The opening was one of Blackbird’s better segments as it allows us to see into the grim life of Miriam, a simple slice of the last few years. But as much as the opening chapters gave us, I wanted more.
Blackbirds is mainly about Miriam’s transformation, from sly psychic temptress to sly psychic temptress with a heart. But I don’t think we got to see enough of Miriam’s previous life to fully appreciate where she ends up in the end.
On the road, when she encounters Louis, it’s almost sweet. Probably because he’s the only character not interested in killing and thieving, he is my favorite character. Miriam’s ultimate attachment to him and her eventual attempt to save his life give this book emotional impact.
The book reads like an underworld travel guide for debauched clairvoyance-catchers. I really enjoyed the viciously dark tone, the gratuitous cussing, the extremely realistic violence, and the general air of pessimism. But still something felt very off as I was reading. Maybe I never allowed myself to be fully sucked in. It’s not that the main characters were not compelling enough but perhaps that the plot was predictable.
Which is very nearly the point. Miriam sees the future and she decides finally she should try to stop some guy’s death. The tension is somehow lost because we know exactly where we’re going to end up and if you try hard enough, you can figure out what might happen when we get there. Not that there are not small surprises, but those feel small once you worm through the main mystery.
What did carry better tension than the main Louis-based plot were brief interludes during which Miriam told her story to a young interviewer. Whether this was in the past or future, we do not know. We get flashes of Miriam’s past, her troubled childhood and eventual pregnancy. And this backbone for the character certainly gives her better weight. It gives you a little bit of the unexpected I was expecting. Which is what I want. Chuck Wendig, I just want you to sneak up on me from behind and twist my neck and break it.
Don’t get me wrong: I really enjoyed Blackbirds and will be tuning in for the sequel Mockingbirds coming out this September, but there is one major flaw, a distracting flaw in this work: Chuck Wendig is a blogger at heart.
He writes funny but passionate passages full of sarcasm, wit, and satire, but this satire sometimes overwhelms the actual story. He spends so much time saturating the atmosphere with the scent of urine and blood that we realize, no this isn’t just a diatribe about the nastiness of truck-stop bathrooms and Waffle House’s, it’s an actual story about an actual girl. This sort of tongue-in-cheek writing best serves blogs, where he is absolutely brilliant. But the same sort of style crosses into his book, which feels strange and very distracting. There are times he gives in to some of the most conventional literary tropes, then whips out very imaginative sentences. So, the writing is hit-and-miss.
I would probably give this story a six out of ten stars if I proscribed to such rating systems, but I don’t, so I’ll leave it at “Read it.” It’s a short, fun novel that slightly blackens your heart and eye. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk and other subversive writers will probably get a kick out of Miriam Black.
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