The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
(Del Rey, 2021)
Reviewed by Jamie Mollart
This is a massive book in pages, ideas, style, genres, and in pretty much every way. I picked it up and for the first 50 pages it felt like Stephen King, and I mean that as a compliment.
It’s got that classic horror feel and is set up using many of King’s tropes: a dysfunctional family moving back to the town where the father grew up; things not being quite why they seem; creepy neighbours; and a history in the town which looks set to resurface with dire consequences.
All familiar so far, but then things get weird. And I mean seriously weird. I’m not exaggerating when I say this book includes: a serial killer; killer wooden owl; time travel; alternate dimensions; demons; the end of the world; children with special powers; dystopian futures; human sacrifice; murder; cop drama; the repeating cycle of male violence; small town weirdness; a magic book; a haunted tunnel; a haunted house; a mythic battle between good and evil, and I’ve probably missed somethings out, but you get the picture.
It is at the same time a gothic horror, weird science fiction and a slasher book.
It’s either insanely ambitious, or just insane.
It begins with a bravura set piece in which a serial killer, Edmund Walker Reese, is executed for a spat of murders of girls, during which he carved a number into his victim’s cheeks, but as soon as the switch is flicked the killer may or may not disappear, depending on who’s version of events you believe.
It then jumps forward to Nate Graves and his family returning to the town he grew up in following the death of his abusive father. Nate is a reluctant ex-cop, his wife Maddie is a struggling artist, their teenage son, Oliver is learning to cope with a secret ability to see people’s pain as a physical cloud. For each of them the house in the country seems to be an answer to their individual problems.
Very quickly things begin to unravel.
Nate keeps seeing his dead father and is haunted by the Rambling Rocks—the location of Walker Reese’s murders.
Maddie finds herself creating artwork in a state of fugue, which appears to come to life while she is ‘out’.
Oliver finds himself falling victim to the town's bullies, until he meets a mysterious young man named Jake, who of course is not what he first seems.
I don’t want to go too much further into the plot as part of the pleasure of this book is experiencing the next crazy twist but suffice to say nothing is what it appears to be on face value, and the family very quickly fall into a series of events which in less capable hands could easily be ridiculous.
And this is the charm of this book. I can only begin to imagine what the plot plan looked like, it’s nothing if not ambitious and highly imaginative, he has literally thrown every single trope possible at it, but somehow it hangs together.
Wendig is clearly a very talented writer as this could very easily have been an unholy mess, and at times the sheer weight of ambition and sub-plots do threaten to derail it, but he somehow always manages to keep it on track and pull it into line.
His desire to neatly wrap everything up is admirable, and technically impressive, but it means the book is longer than it probably needs to be and the conclusions to some of the sub-plots have to be rushed. I was left wondering which you could remove without detriment and the answer is probably a couple, but he does pull it all off.
This is partially because of the smoothness of the writing and also because of the sheer gleeful craziness of the whole thing, but it does work and it is an enjoyable read. If not utterly bonkers.