Review: “The Book of Accidents” by Chuck Wendig

Release Date: July, 2021
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Genre: Horror

Description

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.

My Thoughts

Welcome to me freaking out about how amazing Chuck Wendig’s The Book of Accidents is.

Nate was raised in an abusive home by his alcoholic father. After his father dies from cancer, he moves his family into his childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, artist Maddie and their son Oliver. Maddie is quietly dealing with her own childhood trauma by pouring herself into her art, so much so that she sometimes blacks out while creating. Oliver is empathetic. Extremely so. Supernaturally so. He can sense other people’s emotional pain in an almost physical way. 

Nate settles into his new gig as a ranger for Fish and Game as Maddie tries to get back into her art. Oliver makes some new geeky friends at school and attracts the ire of the two school bullies. And that’s when Jake comes into the mix. The boy isn’t much older than Oliver, but he’s off putting and off kilter in ways that frustrate everyone except Maddie and Oliver. Jake can do impossible things with the help of a strange book. Jake wants something from Oliver, something the teenager is not prepared to give. Lurking in the shadows is a serial killer obsessed with numbers, ghosts of the past and future, and an ancient and powerful evil.

Wendig has talked about how personal this book was and how he had tried to write it a while ago but wasn’t ready yet to do it right. As a reader, you can feel how personal it is. Not that it reads like a memoir, rather that you can tell the person writing it understands on some level what it means to experience first hand the depth of emotion his characters do. This is a novel that feels true to its emotions even though the stuff on the page isn’t real. 

A lot of people compare Wendig to Stephen King, and I can understand why. I don’t personally like King’s work very much (more a fan of the son, Joe Hill, than the father), but I can see the through lines between him and Wendig. However, there are several key differences. Wendig is good at writing women, queer people, and BIPOC. (Here’s where I tell you to read Wanderers, his Atlanta Burns series, and his Miriam Black series, just to prove my point.) He also doesn’t let the fantastical elements overwhelm the plot or jump the shark into WTF territory. No matter how many animated inanimate objects or parallel universes he crams in, he always keeps the truth of the world in focus. 

Because even with all of the supernatural elements, The Book of Accidents is a story about encountering and processing generational trauma. Jake’s father viciously abused him, and now Jake takes his rage out on others. Nate’s father passes abuse down to his son, and he in turn does everything in his power to not do that to Oliver. What might Oliver’s life be like if Nate’s willpower was a little weaker? If Maddie wasn’t as attentive to the needs of others? If Oliver didn’t have his gift of empathy? The novel asks if cycles of trauma can really be broken and if they can, what that means for those who aren’t able or willing to break them. 

I read the first half on audiobook thanks to Libro.fm’s ALC program. The audiobook has two narrators, Xe Sands and George Newbern. Newbern’s was great. He is personable but with an undercurrent of untold depth. He handles Jake, Oliver, and Nate’s scenes while Sands handles Maddie’s (at least through the first half; can’t speak for the rest of the novel). Sands is one of the best audiobook performers currently working today. She is a revelation. I am enamored with her dry, crackling wit. She can pick up on the hidden meanings between the printed words and layer them into her narration so you get a ton of stuff all at once, yet it never gets overwhelming. I’m tempted to go back and listen to books I’ve read in print just to hear her take on them.

The Book of Accidents is everything I wanted in a horror novel. Doorstopper though it may be, it goes quickly, mostly because it’s so damn hard to put down. When I switched from audio to print, I had planned to savor the remaining half of the novel by spreading out the reading sessions over several days. Friends, I read the last 260 or so pages in one afternoon. I forgot to eat lunch. Reading this book was an all consuming experience. If Chuck Wendig isn’t already an auto-buy author for you (like he is me), he should be. 

Buy it at bookshop.org (affiliate link) or libro.fm.

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