Published by Angry Robot on April 24, 2012
Blackbirds is a surprisingly powerful, emotionally appealing novel that poses fundamental questions about fate. “Fate gets what fate wants,” Miriam’s mother always said, but what is fate? Is the future immutable? If you knew your fate, would you be able to change it? These are old questions, but Chuck Wendig shapes them into a story that might prompt you to reconsider your beliefs.
When people touch Miriam, she knows how they’re going to die. Not an original concept -- in fact, it’s been done to death (pun intended) -- but Wendig imparts a fresh twist to the old story: as Miriam watches the murder of a man she has just met, a stabbing that will occur in about a month’s time, she hears the man say her name. As Miriam gets to know (and like) the man, she dreads the coming moment when he will die with her name on his lips.
Miriam is a foul-mouthed, emotional mess and something of a drifter, but she’s figured out how to use her unwanted talent to eke out a living. Her method is a bit unsavory but it’s working for her: she’s a scavenger, picking at the remains the dead leave behind. Her life isn’t great but it seems likely to get even worse when she meets Ashley, a con artist who won’t reveal the contents of his metal suitcase. Two lethal criminals named Harriet and Frankie are after Ashley -- or more specifically, after his suitcase. Somewhere in the middle of the novel the contents of the suitcase are disclosed, probably not to any reader’s great surprise.
Wendig gives Miriam the kind of history that explains her troubled personality. She’s an appealing if somewhat obnoxious character. That’s one reason to read Blackbirds. Another is the high energy writing style that assures the fast-moving story will never be dull. Blackbirds benefits from snappy prose. A couch has “fabric so rough it could grate cheese.” A disagreeable woman is “like a kidney stone lodged in the urethra.”
In a novel about fate, either fate wins, free will triumphs, or fate turns out to be something other than what was expected. Blackbirds plays it down the middle, doesn’t try to answer the unaswerable qeustions, leaving room for the reader to read in one of many plausible interpretations of the novel’s conclusion. That was an admirable choice. The best aspect of the ending is that it sets up the possibility of a sequel. I hope Wendig writes it.