WANDERERS by Chuck Wendig (Book Review)
I’ve been following Chuck Wendig on Twitter for a couple of years now and I have to say that often, his tweets make my day. I’ve been reading his blog for about as long and I love his writing how-to book Damn Fine Story, but to my shame, this is the first fiction of his that I’ve read. You know, not counting what he gets up to on Twitter with Sam Sykes…
Anyway, he’s been on my radar for a while. I’m not sure what’s taken me so long to get to him. Regular readers of The Hive may be familiar with my great love for Stephen King; I think the fact that Wendig is often mentioned in the same breath as King made me a little nervous about reading him. So often that comparison is inaccurate. I needn’t have worried though.
When I read the blurb for Wanderers, I thought it sounded like something King would write – and to my joy, Wendig makes that observation himself, when one of the characters feels like they’re living in a Stephen King novel. Wanderers is full of pop-culture references that I loved and no doubt there were others that I didn’t pick up on. That’s something that Wendig does share with King, along with a tone, a sort of cheerful, manic, “everything’s going to hell, but we’ll have some laughs on the way” grimness that I really appreciate. But now I’ll stop comparing the two writers because Chuck Wendig does more than enough to stand on his own.
Shana wakes up one day to find her younger sister apparently sleepwalking – she cannot be woken or communicated with and to try and stop her progress is to risk her life. Soon she is joined by other sleepwalkers and a flock inexorably gathers on a cross-country journey that no-one knows the cause of. At the same time, people are getting sick. Have the flock caused this mysterious illness? Are these the end-times as spoken of in the book of revelations? Can these happenings bring the country together, or will they drive it further apart?
Wanderers is set in the current time and a lot of what is so horrific about the story is happening all around us as we speak. It’s impossible not to see the USA’s political landscape in the campaigning of Creel and the company he keeps. The right-wing religious and gun nuts, the fear of anything ‘other’ the casual racism – it’s all too easy to see where this is going. This is a novel that is very much grounded in the world we live in and it’s all the more frightening for that fact.
The characters are well-rounded and diverse, having a variety of backgrounds, interests, ethnicities and sexualities. As one would expect from a book of this size, the cast of characters is large – but they’re all interesting enough to stand out on their own. Unlike The Stand, there are no outside forces of Good and Evil, fighting over the fate of mankind; there is only the small case good and evil that exists within us already and within the society we have created. There are awful, violent white supremacists and there are people who are willing to give up their lives in service to others. Then there are all the people in between, muddling along and doing the best they can.
At 800 pages, this is a sizeable tome, but it didn’t feel like it at all. It’s exactly the right length for the story. Nothing dragged or felt like padding. The plot is engaging and well-paced throughout.
Wanderers may have been the first fiction I’ve read by Chuck Wendig but it definitely won’t be the last. I’m heading off now to add his entire backlist to my towering TBR.