Blackbird singin' in the dead of night...
So I read Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds. Which is being billed as urban fantasy, but which bears about as much resemblance to most urban fantasy as, say, Evil Dead bears to Saw. They're considered the same because the labels are too broad and too flawed, but they're very different creatures. And that? Is amazing.
Blackbirds is the story of Miriam Black, a girl who, by touching you, can bear witness to your death, whenever—and however—it might be destined to occur. Aneurism in five minutes or slow wasting away in fifty years, it don't matter. Death, like the honey badger, doesn't give a fuck, and Miriam, who can't control her powers, is trying her best not to give a fuck either. (Miriam is a lot like Rogue from the X-Men: embittered by a power she didn't ask for, trying to survive in a world that has every reason to shove her in front of the nearest semi.)
The story is simple: girl meets boy, girl foresees boy's death, girl is convinced that she can't change it, boy thinks girl is crazy, hilarity ensues. Only for "boy" read "trucker the size of a small mountain," and for "girl" read "psychopomp death-seer girl just trying to run the roads to her own extinction." I think Miriam would get along well with Rose Marshall; there's a lot about her world that feels like Rose's, but different, and in a wonderful way.
One of the fascinating things about this book is...well. Okay. So I was a really grumpy teenager, right? I felt alienated and lonely and like no one could possibly understand me except for my small group of like-minded friends. This turned into our "freaking the mundanes" phase, which not everyone goes through, but which I think most of us have at least seen. We used to sit on the community college quad at lunch (half my friends were students, the rest of us snuck over from the high school across the street) playing "Penis," where you just keep shouting "PENIS!" louder and louder until you crack up, so you can see the looks on people's faces.
Miriam is like that. Her life is one long game of Penis. She swears, she's inappropriately lewd (which is different from appropriately lewd, although she does that, too), she goes for the shock value, because she wants to keep people away. I think this book contained more instances of the word "fuck" than the unrated cut of Clerks. But here's the kicker:
Chuck Wendig isn't playing Penis with you.
He manages to write a protagonist who's all about the shock, but the book never feels like the author is trying to shock you. He's just telling you what happened. It's a travelogue of tragedy, and it's beautiful and terrible, and it couldn't have happened any other way.
Miriam is a damaged protagonist, and her story is a damaged story, and I loved it. It's like the bastard child of American Gods, Sparrow Hill Road, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and you should check it out if you like these things.