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Wednesday
Aug222012

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Published by Angry Robot on September 6, 2012

Mockingbird fails to equal the emotional resonance of Blackbirds, the novel that introduced Miriam Black, but it is written with the same intensity.  Chuck Wendig again tells a fast-paced, enjoyable story that delivers a solid punch.

If you read Blackbirds, you know that Miriam envisions the death of any person she touches.  Miriam is living a mostly platonic life with her friend Louis in an Airstream on Long Beach Island -- not quite what she had in mind at the end of Blackbirds.  Working the checkout line at Ship Bottom Sundries isn’t for her, a truth she confirms when her smart mouth gets her fired.  To earn some cash, she accepts a gig forecasting the death of a hypochondriac who teaches at a boarding school.  There she meets twelve-year-old Lauren (“Wren”) Marten.  What she learns of Wren’s fate is beyond disturbing … and even worse is the knowledge that other girls at the school will meet the same gruesome death.  To do something about it, to change fate (a task she does not undertake lightly, given the events that transpired in Blackbirds), Miriam must find the man she sees in her visions.  Unfortunately for Miriam, fate doesn’t like to be changed.

The story is delightfully creepy but a bit over-the-top, and for that reason is less powerful than the story told in Blackbirds.  It is nonetheless a story told with intelligence and humor.  Wendig works Julius Caesar and The Waste Land and the myth of Philomela into the plot, not to mention a variety of talkative birds.  I also liked the motivation for the child killings -- it’s original and clever -- as well as the ethical dilemma Miriam must confront.

Mockingbird offers additional glimpses of Miriam’s childhood that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the character.  Miriam’s rebellion against her oppressive religious upbringing explains her foul mouth.  (Warning to readers who don’t like profanity:  this is not the book for you.)  Unlike Blackbirds, however, the Miriam who starts Mockingbird is pretty much the same Miriam we see at the end.  Her character doesn’t evolve in this novel as it did in the first one.  Perhaps that’s to be expected, but I would like to see her continue the journey of self-discovery she started in Blackbirds.

Wendig writes snappy prose that is filled with attitude.  He has a knack for making obnoxious characters endearing.  Miriam won my heart (again) when she made fun of Applebee’s (Crapplebee’s).  The novel’s abundant action scenes are blistering, and just when you least expect it, Wendig adds a touch of sweetness to the story.  Although Mockingbird isn’t as surprising or moving as Blackbirds, it made me anxious to read the next installment in the saga of Miriam Black.

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