Let’s start at the end. For those of you just tuning in this is not my usual methodology, but for this book I thought it was important not to give my thoughts on the ending of this book at the end of the post. Because the end, by definition, is the last thing you read. The end of a book, the end of a blog post, whatever it is, the last thing we experience colors our memory of the piece more than anything else.
And here’s the thing: the only negative thing I have to say about this book is about the ending. And because this book is truly exceptional in every other regard I don’t want to risk leaving you on a negative note at the end of this review.
It’s not even a bad ending per say. It wraps up all the pieces of the story pretty neatly, but in my opinion there’s something missing. Here’s the deal: a number of scenes in the book cast shadows toward a particular kind of ending. They hint about sacrifice and the nature of justice, weaving religious iconography (strangely detailed religious iconography for a man who’s so well-known for his love for profanity) into dream-visions featuring a weird specter who claims to be more than the simple product of Miriam’s deranged subconscious.
But when we actually get to the ending, it seems too easy. No, “easy” isn’t the right word. Miriam Black goes through something close to hell before she finds her peace. She’s beaten to a pulp, pushed to the edge of sanity, forced to confront something within herself she didn’t know existed.
But what the ending is missing, the true and final ingredient left out of this otherwise perfect recipe is sacrifice. Miriam Black has to fight for her ending, but in my opinion she never reaches that crucial point where she willingly gives up something truly precious to her for the sake of someone else. That was the capstone I felt the story needed the final piece that would have made the puzzle complete.
Now. On to the good stuff. Of which there is plenty.
The premise of the book is this: Miriam Black knows how you’re going to die. She sees it played out in her head like a movie (often an exceptionally gruesome movie) whenever she makes skin to skin contact with you. And as you might imagine this power makes her just a bit…unstable.
It is the character of Miriam Black that drives the heart of the book, a cynical and sardonic loner using her foresight to pick over the bodies of the newly dead like a blackbird (why yes, in fact that is the title of the book) scavenging for scraps of flesh. Her biting wit warns the world to keep its distance, and her heart seems to be covered in prickles like a cactus. But inside there’s something far different, a scared and scarred girl whose life has brought her to a place where she’s afraid to love or even trust anyone else. Her mocking wit is a shield she puts up lest anyone see her pain, and the more she tries to convince herself she doesn’t care the harder it becomes to believe.
The story properly begins with Miriam having a vision. She’s used to this by now, long since learning to deaden her feelings about the ever-looming specter of death. Only this time is different. This time as the death scene plays out in her head, she sees the trucker she’s only just met calling out her name as he’s brutally murdered by a man she’s never seen before.
Miriam knows there is nothing she can do about this. “Fate gets what fate wants,” she’s fond of saying. Intervention is pointless. Any effort to stop the death she has seen will only help to bring it to pass. She knows this. And yet she finds herself drawn to this man, this innocent, who will die in a few short weeks, and all because of her.
What follows is a tangled web of con men, killers and villains, all leading inexorably to a final showdown with the most powerful enemy of all: fate.
Blackbirds is plotted beautifully, drawing you in from the first page, and making you care deeply about this wounded and lonely soul named Miriam Black. It never falters for a moment. Every page, every sentence, every word work together to create a nearly perfect whole. In short it is an example of what truly great writing should be: fearless, powerful, effortless.
Don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. It’s available in print and for ereaders from Amazon.com, and probably some other places too.