Horror has always been a genre that Chuck Wendig can’t ignore. It’s baked into his work, from the gruesome, play-by-play death visions of a one miss Miriam Black (often end-capped with visits from the otherworldly and eldritch Passenger) to the denizens of Hell beneath New York City in The Blue Blazes; the steady, horrifying march into the future of the White Mask plague in Wanderers; the genetically mutated corn of his YA Heartland trilogy… Wendig has always stirred horror thick into the cauldron of his narratives, whether alongside hero’s journeys or family dramas, science fiction or the fantastic.
In his newest doorstopper novel, The Book of Accidents, Wendig finally lets loose, crafting an exquisite, complex, chilling, and gripping horror story with equal amounts of heart and humor. Not that there aren’t flashes of other elements here, some massive in scope, others more domestic, but Wendig has channeled his horror impulses into a rich vein that strikes at the reader as a swift as a pickaxe to the heart.
Nathan, his wife Maddie, and their son Oliver have been given a chance to start over, to leave the city and take up in the Pennsylvania countryside, at Nathan’s childhood home. With his abusive father freshly dead, and Oliver struggling more and more, afflicted with a sense of empathy that makes him stop in his tracks no matter the circumstances, Nathan and Maddie agree to give it a shot. She’ll gain a studio space for her art, he’ll leave his precinct and join the Fish and Game department, and Oliver will get a chance to slow down, catch his breath, and see if he can’t find a way through this terrible anxiety. But there are cracks in the world and they’re beginning to show. Apparitions of his dead father haunt the halls of his old home. Maddie has been falling into fugue states, unable to remember making the artwork appearing and disappearing around her. And Oliver’s new friend, the one with the scar across his eye and a mean streak, see, he has a book. And this book, it lets him do all sorts of things. And he wants Oliver to read it.
As I finished this book, I had the thought that Chuck Wendig is a writer who—along with Stephen Graham Jones, T. Kingfisher, Victor LaValle, and John Langan—will inherit the shared mantle of Stephen King’s legacy. King made his name on the melding of domestic horror with supernatural terror over his long (and still strong!) career, and after reading The Book of Accidents, I think Wendig has written a novel that hits that exact sweet spot for readers of accessible, modern horror and stands shoulder to shoulder with those aforementioned writers. And he doesn’t shy away from it, either. There is horror of all kinds spattered across this book, and there really is something here for everyone: psychological horror and cosmic horror, horror with gore and horror with teeth, jump scares and serial killers and beings from other worlds. And true to the genre, much of the true horror lives in other people, the awful ways that lives can get bent or twisted, making monsters of people, who don’t know anything but pain.
What makes The Book of Accidents such an achievement is that Wendig unspools all these various threads of horror, making them knot and twist and cascade, running into each other, snapping and fraying at some ends, making jumbles of others. And whereas other writers might be happy to let these threads loose and document the terrible ends they come to, Wendig rolls up his sleeves and gets to work unknotting the whole damn thing. For every strain of horror he injects, he just as ably gets in the way of it; through complex character ideas, meditations on the modern world and what’s needed to combat injustice, with chewy worldbuilding and effortless, epic battles against demons literal and figurative, Wendig uses each and every one of the tools in his arsenal to unpack, challenge, and sometimes literally tear apart the horror besetting those within the pages of his book. In many ways, throughout The Book of Accidents, the challenge is simply this: there are worlds were evil wins, where the horror is too great, where hope withers, and there is no such thing as growth. But not this world.
In a story concerned with cycles of abuse and violence, where character after character falls to the same bloody story that thunders through their heart, the same as it did their father, their teacher, every other version of themselves even, The Book of Accidents loudly proclaims its thesis that even at your worst moment, it is possible to change. To break the cycle. To not give in. To stand. Nathan, Maddie, and Oliver, among many others in a large cast list of dynamic, nuance characters, are each faced with moments where it would be so easy to crumble. To give in. To fall. And while it would be easy to casually dismiss how and why our heroes succeed, even if it’s just one time, Wendig does the work to show us how they do the work to succeed. From moment to moment, the reader knows these characters so well, that when those pivotal stands do come, it is both a triumph of the writing and the character, that make them so damn satisfying to witness. It’s not impossible to change your story, Wendig says. And then he shows you how.
The Book of Accidents really does live up to those memories of summers spent between the pages of enormous tomes, horror or fantasy or science fiction, that gripped me by the throat and wouldn’t let me go until their tale was done. I finished this mighty book in two and a half days. Wendig has written a huge horror story with a surprising amount of heart that he earns with each page. It gets dark, it gets scary, and at times, it can seem like there’s no way forward. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s no accident. I think readers are going to love this, especially if they’re craving that big summer read. This book and Wendig certainly have my endorsement, and I can’t wait to see what he tackles next.
The Book of Accidents is available from Del Rey.
Martin Cahill is a writer living in Queens who works as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Erewhon Books. He has fiction work forthcoming in 2021 at Serial Box, as well as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. Martin has also written book reviews and essays for Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and the Barnes and Noble SF&F Blog. Follow him online at @mcflycahill90 and his new Substack newsletter, Weathervane, for thoughts on books, gaming, and other wonderfully nerdy whatnots.