Ashes, ashes, we all fall down…
There’s something so sinister about cycles. They can feel like an infinite loop you can’t claw your way out of, or like an echo of something you swear you’ve felt before but can’t explain or remember just right. There’s an air of predestination about them that can either comfort you or really mash that rebellion button. Sprinkle in a serial killer, maybe some ghosts, and weird perceptions of reality and you’ve got Chuck Wendig’s latest, The Book of Accidents.
Told from the alternating perspectives of serial killer Edmund Reese and each member of the Graves family, Accidents examines the effects of generational trauma, toxic masculinity, parallel universes, and the importance of empathy both in and outside of personal circles. It tells the story of one man, Edmund Reese, on a quest to murder 99 girls in attempt to reset the world, and a family trying to save each other and reality as they know it from crumbling in their hands. Fifteen-year-old Oliver Graves is an empath. He can feel and see the pain in others as if it’s some all-consuming creature and, after suffering a meltdown at school during a safety drill, he and his family decide to move to the country and live in his father’s childhood home, sold to Nate on his abusive father’s deathbed. It doesn’t take long for Oliver to become the school bullies’ new target, or for mysterious things to start happening in and around the new Graves home. Following an especially violent encounter with the bullies, Oliver is saved by the mysterious and sinister Jake, who soon guides him down a path of dangerous and dark magic that just might cost Oliver everything he holds dear…
I’ll be honest, this was my first Wendig book. Something about the mix of serial killers and ghosts and trauma excited me and read like it might get under my skin in the best possible way and, to a degree, it does occasionally manage to do so. When he leaves the plot to be its sufficiently creepy, sometimes heart-aching self Accidents feels like it begins to live up to its potential. Unfortunately, the first two thirds or so have a counterbalance that can really rip you out of the mood of the story — the writing feels like it’s trying incredibly hard to be inclusive in as many ways as possible by specifically drawing attention to either current issues or the concept of the gender spectrum. Never before have I encountered a book about a serial killer terrorizing a family across timelines that was so bent on bringing up climate change. In fact, climate change is so frequently mentioned I began to get anxiety not from the contents of the book, but from the book’s insistence that I remember a real-world horror in the middle of seeking a temporary escape.
That and some other clunky-feeling dialogue aside, once the story is allowed to shirk its demands for recognition as hip to the times and simply be what it is — a horror novel about generational trauma of many forms and the ways we try to break them — it does manage to shine itself into an enjoyably creepy ride. I wish almost that the shifting perspectives might have shifted a little more to the history of the sinister and ever-present Rambling Rocks, but if Accidents main goal was to explore the depths of family ties and what it takes to heal from a pain that lingers and echoes across time seemingly forever, then it does so with enough success to warrant a recommendation. It may even generate some important discussions around toxic masculinity and the pressures society places on men in particular to be strong, ruthless, unfeeling pinnacles of power rather than thinking, feeling human beings.
The most positive surprise I found in Accidents was Oliver himself. He’s a teenage boy in the throws not just of high school, but of exploring this power to see and feel people’s emotions and what that means for how he interprets the world. Being empathic can be an incredibly isolating or empowering experience, depending on how you are able and decide to cope with it, and Oliver’s dedication to helping people who are suffering instead of just letting himself drown in the force of their negative emotions is a great positive example of masculinity and how to be a force for good in a world that demands you constantly witness its bad side. Beyond that, Oliver is bisexual! His sexuality is never made too big a deal of, nor is he necessarily terrorized or demonized for it, but it is acknowledged as a constant and vital part of his identity all the same. I can count the number of books featuring bisexual boys I’ve read on one hand, so it’s always a nice surprise to encounter a new one, and Oliver also acting as the book’s only real emotional challenge to socially perpetuated ideas of masculinity makes him the most important part of the book.
The Book of Accidents climbs out of the tunnel under the Rambling Rocks just at the edge of your vision on July 20th from Random House Publishers.
I would like to thank the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to receive an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.