— ♦ —
Wendig is not for the weak.
Wendig is for the brave, the adventurous, those strong in mind and stomach.
Wendig is not to be read with a mouthful of liquid, perchance it splatter out your nostrils from hilarity or horror. (And for God’s sake, don’t eat while reading. You’ll choke to death. Oh—speaking of God—do not read Wendig in or near a church. If you do, take two wafers and guzzle extra hard from that chalice.)
Who is Wendig? Awesome, that’s who. Dude’s so layered, he makes onions jealous.
A now-unimportant member of my former life told me once, and often, that I am impossible to please. Never satisfied. Maybe it’s because I married—and divorced—him that I proved this rather prophetic dictum true. Before you judge, let it be known that I expect a lot from the people around me, from the writers I read, the artists whose work I hang on my walls, the musicians who are granted entry into my ears. (Mmmm, dirty.) I am notoriously difficult to please. My therapist agrees.
THING IS: I love Wendig’s work. I didn’t know that until I stumbled upon his blog, “Terrible Minds,” and fell head first into the Well of Wendig, in all its filth and mirth and unshaven naughty bits and torn fingernails embedded in the well walls from prior failed escape attempts on behalf of captives. His star is on the rise with an impressive background in game development and screenwriting (he and his writing partner Lance Weiler showed their short film Pandemic at Sundance in 2011), and now with the release of his novel, Blackbirds. Bonus for you writerly types: get thee to his blog and check out his collection of pithy publishing essays and writing advice books, including Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey and 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer. Stalk him on Facebook and Twitter so you can get the hilarious and always informative “25” lists in which he catalogs mind-blowing maxims about the writing life (“25 Reasons I Hate Your Main Character,” “How to Be a Full-time Writer: An Investigative Report,” “25 Things You Should Know about Word Choice”). Advice this good shouldn’t be free. But it is. *Clink and drink!*
So when my darling editor e-mailed and said, “Wendig’s got a new book out. His publicist said he’s booking interviews,” well, I might have peed a little from the manic bouncing in my discount office chair.
Like foreplay on a first date—unexpected, scintillating, oh-so-naughty—Wendig’s work never fails to amuse. If the literary gods were taken to task about the origins of this writer, they’d trace the lineage, the recipe, to equal parts Chuck Palahniuk, Flannery O’Connor, and Donald Ray Pollock, served with a side of Patton Oswalt, doused in liquor and set alight. Like baked Alaska, on acid. Grit, humor, and an undigested, in-your-face look at the human condition from an angle few of us ever see or dare to imagine.
Lucky for you, Blackbirds drops today. It will not disappoint. DISCLAIMER: If you have an aversion to the F Word, um, maybe Chuck’s work will dissatisfy, even shock or horrify you. In that case, you already know what you should be reading, and you lost interest in this review paragraphs ago because someone dropped you on your head when you were a baby and it destroyed that part of your brain that regulates cool.
Summary from the Terrible Minds Blackbirds page (because why reinvent the wheel when the kindly folks at the publishing company made a perfectly round one with shiny spokes):
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.
I’m going to try to avoid spoiling the shit out of this, like milk in a broken fridge in a Tucson trailer park. Forgive me in advance if I fail because I’m just so excited. (Wendig!)
Miriam is the perfect anti-hero. You root for her, you feel that she’s suffered and continues to suffer daily, but she’s tough to like. At first. Ragged and potty-mouthed, she’s not a diamond in the rough—hell, she’s still in the coal phase. Sooty and definitely prone to stains on everything she encounters, and with some of the sharpest one-liners I’ve read in dark comedic fiction. She has this cool trick—if you were to reach out and shake her hand or if she bumped into you at a rave, she’d know way more about you—specifically, about your death—than might make you comfortable. But she won’t tell you, so don’t ask. (Do you really want to know?) Something as simple as moving toward the bathroom in a packed diner can deliver one vision after another, a cinema of death Miriam is powerless to turn away from and impotent to change. Her destructive streak is understandable, albeit difficult to witness—and there are multiple occasions where you will question her sanity. But just as with troubled souls in real life, the vicious self-loathing stems from a lack of love, from a need to run from the searing pain of the past. In Miriam’s case, she runs from a boy with a red balloon.
And it should be noted: the visions themselves are tiny works of creative awesome. Wee stories within the greater context of the novel. Death is the one thing we all have in common; what we don’t is how it comes upon us. Wendig has painted these scenes broadly and generously. So many people, so many ways to buy the farm.
[W]hat’s messed up is what comes later. … You realize, all of life is written in a book, and when that book is over, so are we. Worse, some of us get shorter books than others. … Once it’s over, it’s over. Throw it away. Say goodbye, Gracie.”
The supporting cast of characters—and I mean “characters” in every negative, dark connotation the word can carry—are flawed and terrible and out for themselves. From the string of men Miriam leaves in her wake to Ashley Gaines, con artist and extortionist extraordinaire, running from some Very Bad People, who shows up and rocks Miriam’s world—until she finds out why he’s really around. One good night of lovin’ leads to days of “oh my God, how is she going to get out of this?” Ashley locks onto Miriam, threatens to go to the police and share her little secret, share the details on the string of bodies, spill the beans on how she picks their dead pockets clean, unless she agrees to help him with his dastardly errand.
But one bright spot rides in on all eighteen wheels early and again later on: meaty, long-hauler Louis. A true man, good oozing from his cells, and yet, his days are numbered, a discovery that shows us how human, and fragile, poor Miriam can be. The revelation happens close to the beginning of the story (at “9%” on my Kindle), sending us on a downward, gut-twisting spiral for the remaining 91 percent. How is Louis going to die, and better yet, how on earth is Miriam going to save him? Will she?
Wendig does not bother with excess words or purple prose. His screenwriting background is obvious in the sparse, tight writing. With an economy of words, he situates his reader firmly in every new environment and delivers throat-clenching emotion with every sick twist of the blade in the side of your jugular. The story has a schizophrenic flair to it—one moment, you laugh, possibly out loud, and shake your head; the next, you’ve moved your hand to your mouth, brow furrowed, and you swallow hard against that bacon cheeseburger you just finished. No matter what, you will feel. You will react.
And that, my friends, is worth the price of admission.