Book Review: Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig
Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Length: 320 pages
Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CAN
Miriam Black has a special gift; a dark gift. Just one touch, a single moment of skin-on-skin contact, and she sees how you’ll die. The barest brush floods her mind with grisly images of death and blood and gore; accidents, age, suicides, murders. For eight years, Miriam has wandered the countryside, following people she knows are about to die, living off whatever meager scraps she can pull from their wallets when they go. “Girl needs to eat,” she reasons. After all, she’s just making sure she’s in the right place at the right time; she’s not actually causing anyone to die. That is, until she meets Louis and a set of chance encounters is all it takes to sign his death warrant.
Blackbirds is gritty in all the best ways, like a roadhouse diner that serves up a burger you can’t get enough of, even though you’re positive that can’t possibly be beef. Other reviews have likened this book to something co-written by Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King, and with little wonder. Wendig’s descriptions are excellent, the imagery vibrant and real. Each page is a bite of ground muscle as delicious as the last, and even though you can feel the sand between your teeth, you do everything you can to convince yourself this isn’t road kill, because you just can’t stop.
Even in the dimmest, darkest corners of despair, Miriam’s snarky wit never feels forced or out of place, making her a character we know intimately in the darker sides of our selves. The perfect balance of filth and innocence makes her a classic antihero (or rather, antiheroine), a good person whose life has led her to some very bad places. Like Odd Thomas on Bath Salts, Miriam’s sandpaper-coarse attitude covers a little girl so scarred by guilt and horror that people want to protect her, even as it grates the skin from their arms.
Yet even under all this, questions lurk. Questions of morality, fate, and philosophy. Readers can’t help but ask themselves what, exactly, is it that separates a bad person from a good person who does bad things? How much control over our own lives do we have? Are our stories prewritten, only waiting for us to live them out, or do our choices make a difference?
““Fate’s an unmovable object,” Miriam says … “All our lives are just a series of events carefully orchestrated to culminate in whatever death fate has planned for us. Every moment. Every act. Every loving whisper and hateful gesture – all just another tiny cog in the clockwork ready to ring the alarm for our ultimate hour.”” These are things each reader must ask themselves if they believe. How much of our lives do we really have control over, and how much is preordained? Are we the masters of our own destiny, or are we puppets fooled into believing we have choices?
We all want to be the designers of our own destiny. Regardless of whether we believe we were created purposely or we were the result of some freak cosmic accident, not one of us wants to be at the bottom end of the puppet strings. If everything is already written out, what’s the point of any of it? But every choice and action has consequences, too, both good and bad, and if we’re so intent on owning those choices and actions, then we must also accept the consequences as being of our own making. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. Do you own your choices and take responsibility for the results, or do you drift along, thanking and blaming gods or fate for whatever happens?
Blackbirds surpassed every expectation I had for this story. I would recommend it for any mature reader who doesn’t mind – or even appreciates – the vulgar side of life. If you like stories with coarse, gritty realism, you need to read this book. If you like tough female protagonists with no-holds-barred attitudes, you need to read this book. You know what? You just need to read this book.