THE BOOK OF ACCIDENTS
By Chuck Wendig
Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine
Pub date: 20-July-2021
AMBER LOVE 25-MAY-2021 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.
A family returns to their hometown—and to the dark past that haunts them still—in this masterpiece of literary horror by the New York Times bestselling author of Wanderers
“The dread, the scope, the pacing, the turns—I haven’t felt all this so intensely since The Shining.”—Stephen Graham Jones, New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians
Long ago, Nathan lived in a house in the country with his abusive father—and has never told his family what happened there.
Long ago, Maddie was a little girl making dolls in her bedroom when she saw something she shouldn’t have—and is trying to remember that lost trauma by making haunting sculptures.
Long ago, something sinister, something hungry, walked in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of their hometown in rural Pennsylvania.
Now, Nate and Maddie Graves are married, and they have moved back to their hometown with their son, Oliver.
And now what happened long ago is happening again . . . and it is happening to Oliver. He meets a strange boy who becomes his best friend, a boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic.
This dark magic puts them at the heart of a battle of good versus evil and a fight for the soul of the family—and perhaps for all of the world. But the Graves family has a secret weapon in this battle: their love for one another.
I was not disappointed by Chuck Wendig’s supernatural flare and penchant for tragedies. The Book of Accidents at its simplest core is about a family where each of them would die for the others. In the greater scheme, it’s a trippy multiverse exploration of how there could be good and evil versions of everyone in different realities where the few who know wonder if cycles of abuse, corruption, pollution, and war could be broken.
There’s a serial killer named Edmund Walker Reese who recurs in strange and unexpected ways. I’m not entirely sure what his role is since the character of Jake is the villain. Reese may be the source of all urban legends about the boulder field in rural Pennsylvania called Ramble Rocks. This is not really a spoiler here as its the “job” of a serial killer to be known for murders. Reese took his victims to Ramble Rocks which either already an anomaly in the time-space continuum or maybe all of the blood he shed there created it. Either way, this Ramble Rocks place has differences in each universe.
Oliver is a teenage boy with “off the charts” levels of empathy. He can see the pain in others. It appears differently like black angry waves or black worms that could consume a body. Speaking of worms, in typical Wendig fashion there are some pretty gross detailed scenes of things like worms coming out noses and eyes. Oliver’s empathy overwhelms him to the point where his father is willing to move from Philadelphia to his home in Nowhereville, PA where he changes jobs and Oliver can go into a better school. Oliver’s mother Maddie is an artist so she’s game for being able to build her own studio from the wood and debris of her husband’s family home (as soon as Grandpa dies).
Making new friends comes hard to Oliver but he does it. He finds a small group of RPG players that he likes and they welcome him. However, an older fella named Jake comes to Oliver’s rescue one day, thus creating an unbreakable bond of not-quite-friendship between them.
There’s no way to talk about Jake without spoiling everything. Let’s just say Jake is consumed by evil, a demon that lives inside him. The connection between Oliver and Jake is more than you think.
Even after reading the entire story, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for Jake even though I probably should. The book embraces the debate of Nature vs Nurture. Are some people destined to be evil? Can people change?
Oliver’s father Nate is the stalwart dad everyone would dream of having, as is his mother Maddie. These are parents that are in for the long haul of raising a “special” kid who has unique abilities. The three of them together can make a reader fall in love with the idea of family. People who aren’t afraid to hug each other or say, “I love you.” It’s not something everyone has in real life and that’s why the fantasy of parallel universes can either be appealing or make you angry thinking there’s some other version of yourself having the best life while you suffer.
Wendig doesn’t hold back how unfair the world we’ve left our children is. Active shooter drills in schools. Climate change. Police violence and bias. The education system. It’s all there woven like an intricate Amish quilt into this story of a boy and his parents who would do anything to save each other.
Even though there were some squeamish parts, at times I wanted to dive in and hug the characters.
Owls play a significant role for artist Maddie. Sometimes falls into a fugue state and doesn’t know why she’s sculpted something. When one owl is birthed as a creation, she tries to replicate it. Owls in art are a fascinating study. Owls in Christian art can be seen as either Satan or as Christ. Their mysterious nocturnal nature can scare believers into thinking the animals are portents of a devil or witches. They’re also known in folklore and fairy tales for their wisdom. Then we get to the weird work of Hieronymus Bosch. It’s believed by scholars that Bosch used owls to symbolize wisdom and the association with Athena — Greek polytheism as opposed to Christianity’s monotheism. Owls are smart enough to hide during the vulnerable hours of daylight. The owl’s eyes are able to see what others cannot. For Wendig’s character Maddie, she wasn’t consciously choosing the owl at first. But why did Wendig choose it for her? He could’ve chosen doves (a favorite symbol of peace) or some kind of raptor (known for being effective hunters).
Doors play another significant part in Maddie’s artwork. They have a specific role in the final act. Doors always seem to be about crossing from one chapter of your life into another. They are portals that either get us to places of privacy or into places forbidden to others. They say even Heaven has pearly gates to keep out the unwanted. Doesn’t seem very heavenly to me. Doors are often used in meditations and memory exercises. “Picture a door” is so often what’s said to get someone to move from their conscious state to an alpha state. These doors are part of Maddie’s magic. She had the magic in her from when she was a little girl, but had forgotten.
Worms are an interesting choice by Wendig to physically represent the icky, gooey, slithering, parasitic evil. It’s sickness and demons. The pestilence of the Apocalypse. Wendig could have chosen snakes are so often maligned as evil creatures; but instead he chose worms. Small things that our world needs in its soil but creep people out.
The prose is top-notch as expected. The nods to factual Pennsylvania are great for local readers or tourists. In fact, if you want to see a parallel version of Ramble Rocks where people are happy, spiritual, and enjoying the great outdoors instead of being victims, I urge you to look up the directions to Ringing Rocks.
Rating: 5 stars