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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

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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 he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people – that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.
~~~~~
Wendig’s ‘Terrible Minds’ blog and his writing advice are both hugely popular, and this has helped drive the huge popularity of Blackbirds. It’s a popularity I can’t understand…

Blackbirds is written in a sort of sub-thriller style, meandering around without the laser-focus of a thriller but also without the depth of the average Dan Brown novel. Wendig’s plot darts backwards and forwards between interludes revealing backstory, and the present plot, which deviates and diverges, darts around simply to hurt Miriam more without any meaningful function. The damage seems not to actually affect Miriam or any other characters, and the events of the book seem to essentially have no consequence; although we are told that they have, without being shown it at all. This study in cruelty and nihilism would work if it was willing to show us that was what it was; but instead Blackbirds continually attempts to have more depth, import, weight, heft, impact to it.

The characters are similarly lightweight. Miriam is a character created by her nihilism and pain; Blackbirds is centred around her and that attitude seeps into the rest of the novel. The problem is that this is pure teenage angst and teenage nihilism; Miriam is defined by her swearing (ooo, edgy!) and her essential adolescence. Although it has to be said that that’s one characteristic more than any other member of the cast; Blackbirds is defined by simple, flat, dull characters with no depth to them whatsoever; there’s not a single individual here who we ought to care about, or are given any reason to. The villain is villainous, his henches are henchey in the most trope-centred manner, and the decisions they make have literally no impact; they’re all stripped of agency.

The writing style is similarly flat. Blackbirds seems to think swear words are, basically, punctuation; they’re thrown around by all the characters without any real thought, trying to imply punch in the narrative. The pace of the novel is flat and dull, unmoving, and without any real interest; Wendig doesn’t vary it, and that leaves us with a novel whose prose doesn’t do anything to help the plot, or to engage the readers. The language is plain and without adornment except swear words, without any evocation of anything; Blackbirds trusts in its “twists” to adorn the plot and, to be blunt, fails.

The whole thing really is just simple, plain, and above all pedestrian; Blackbirds, for all its popularity, just isn’t worth reading.


1 Comment

  1. Daaaamn. Cold. I can see where you’re coming from, though I felt very differently about this book, particularly about the pace…that you found the pace flat and dull is something I can’t begin to grasp as I was propelled through this book more quickly than most and really enjoyed both it and the next two in the series.

    You say: “Miriam is a character created by her nihilism and pain” but I would argue that you have that bit slightly skewed as it is the pain of her experiences and situation that birth her nihilism. Perhaps a symbol of humanity’s lack of ability to really have to look death in the face, constantly, with no filter and what being forced to do so on a daily basis might do to a body.

    Anyway, it is always interesting to hear when someone has such a different experience with the same book.

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