Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Blackbirds



Chuck Wendig
Blackbirds

Angry Robot Books, 2012

Miriam Black lives on the road. She hitchhikes, earning a living by stealing from people. To honor or dishonor of Miriam, but it needs to be said that she steals from the dead people. The fact is, Miriam is able to predict the death of another person. It is enough to touch someone's skin, and in her head there is the image: she sees, when and how a person dies. So, finding people who are about to die, she is either rubbed their trust or follow them, so that later, when the person is dead, she pick up the money that was there with him or her. You can’t get rich this way, but it’s enough for a living. Especially if a living means no home, friends, relatives, and no prospects for the future.

At the beginning of the novel Miriam takes the money from the wallet of a man, who had the heart attack just at the moment when he was about to have sex with Miriam in a hotel room. With a black eye and in dirty, torn clothes, Miriam gets in the truck and accidentally touches the driver. The vision shows that the driver named Louis will be brutally murdered in thirty days, and before his death he will call Miriam by name. Miriam, scared, leaves Louis, but their paths will cross yet. Death in the face of three psychopath murderers already comes on the heels.

Chuck Wendig, after the novella Shotgun Gravy, again makes the main character of his novel a woman. And hell, if I had not seen the author's name on the cover, it could be assumed that a book was written by a woman. Miriam Black is even more sophisticated creation from Wendig. She swears, is rude to dangerous types, keeps a diary, where records all her foresight, and her whole life is full of strangers and no loved ones. Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Miriam and two bikers:

«" What's up? " he asks, like not much else is going on.

Ashley's legs start to go limp.

"That guy you're choking to death?"

"Uh-huh."

"He's my brother. He's ... got problems. One, he's got bad manners. Two, his name is Ashley, and with a name like that, he might as well have a couple vaginas in his pocket, am I right? Three, he's at least half-retarded. Though I'm willing to put money on two-thirds retarded, if you're up for a friendly wager. Mom used to feed him lawn fertilizer when he was a kid, I think as some kind of retroactive abortion attempt. "»


Under a layer of black humor (Miriam no longer takes her life seriously after so many deaths in her head, and humor is the only protection to not go crazy) hides a very dark and full of despair story of a girl who is given a gitf (or, rather, curse) to see someone else's death but not given to prevent these deaths. The story itself is quite local, even small, but it is only that on the surface. Plotwise it is a road novel, with a pinch of noir, the cruel murderers, suitcase full of drugs and roguish hero with supernatural powers. There is something in Blackbirds that is significantly Stephen King-ish. This book could’ve been written by King of The Dead Zone and Misery, when he was writing 200 pages novels. This is also the story which is typically American, with roadside cafes, motels, gas stations and shady characters that can be found on both sides of the highway - occurring somewhere in the heart of the country.

But under a thin layer of the plot there is a thick layer of thoughts on the themes of life and death. Wendig doesn’t waste words. To get to the point, he uses only one sentence instead of ten unlike 95 percent of the fantasy authors. Blackbirds is no fantasy, though. Just insanely good, acrid, burning prose. And the dialogues are top-notch:

"His dick killed him," she says.

"His dick."

"His erection, more specifically."

"You banged CEO Grandpa?"

"Jesus, no. I did flash him a tit, though. He was so pumped fill of dick pills - and not prescribed stuff, but shit from, like, some village in China - that it killed him. My chest isn't exactly impressive, but I guess it's enough to kill an old man. "


Wendig is a phenomenal talent, breakthrough of the last year. Absolute must-read.

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