One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to create a main character who is not likeable, but is at least understandable. Chuck Wendig accomplished this in his first Miriam Black novel, Blackbirds and now continues with the sequel, Mockingbird. His novels are harsh and violent, but they’re also hard to put down.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Miriam is trying. Really, she is.
But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis—who’s on the road half the time in his truck—is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.
It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability—to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them—in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.
Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.”
Wow, there are so many ways in which this novel twists and contorts and does its damnedest to freak you out, I’m not even sure where to begin. Let’s start with Miriam. She’s lost none of her hard edge from the first novel, although she’s certainly tried to suppress it. So much of her identity is tied up in her psychic power that ignoring it isn’t a good idea for her.
This book is squarely in the horror category for me. I don’t often read novels that contain this much graphic violence, but Wendig doesn’t cross the line into being gratuitousness, no matter how gory things get. In this book, the nasty happenings are tied up in what sounds like an old nursery rhyme or folk song. Given that there are persistent stories that “Ring Around the Rosy” refers to the Black Plague, this device isn’t outside the realm of possibility, and it lends an eerie feeling to the story. Using a children’s poem in conjunction with a brutal murder creates the kind of dissonance that should make just about every reader uncomfortable.
The relationship between Miriam and Louis is like the chronicle of a train wreck in action. Both are broken people with their own issues and problems, and together they’re like nitro and glycerin. Admittedly, a lot of that is due to Miriam—not only does she routinely push people away, but her sense of responsibility for Louis’s near death is a wedge between them. While I admire Louis for his determination to help Miriam, you can’t help but mutter to yourself “This can’t end well…”
The mystery in this book is a bit more, well, mysterious than the first novel, in my opinion. In Blackbirds, Miriam is part of her vision about Louis, and so we know where things have to end up. In Mockingbird, the visions center on a series of young girls, so there’s more of a question about where and how the story will conclude. There were surprises aplenty, and the longer the story went on, the more invested I got in the outcome.
I cannot enumerate the many ways in which this novel will likely give you nightmares, but the story is so good that it’s worth a few restless nights. Mockingbird is an example of a writer creating a character so skillfully that whether or not you like her, you will understand what makes her tick, and you’ll sympathize with the difficulties that she faces on her path. I can’t wait for the next novel in this series.
Also by this author: Blackbirds
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on September 13, 2012.