Meet the Graves: Nate, a Philadelphia cop; Maddie, an artist; and their teenaged son, Olly, an empath who is a routine target of bullies at his school. When the family has a chance to move to Nate’s rural childhood home, they see it as an opportunity to escape the craziness of the big city.
But they soon learn that rural Pennsylvania is the scariest place of all.
Strange things happen immediately: Maddie’s sculptures begin coming to life. Nate begins seeing the ghost of his abusive father, except slightly different than he was while alive (left-handed, for example).
As for Olly, the change of scenery doesn’t make much difference at first — he’s still a bully magnet. In his darkest moment, though, a one-eyed stranger shows up and chases off two jocks who are trying to drown him. The mysterious stranger introduces himself as Jake, a fellow teenager, who lives by himself, doesn’t go to school and seems to have magical abilities.
With his new friend to protect him, it seems that Olly’s nightmare is over, but in truth, he’s about to sink to depths he never could have imagined.
The Book of Accidents is an entertaining and well-written book. It’s a page-turner with classic horror tropes such as the struggle between good and evil, supernatural entities and the power of underdogs when they’re forced to tap into a strength they didn’t realize they had.
Personally, I like my horror to be on the darker side, so while this was a fun read, I didn’t find it scary or disturbing. I also couldn’t put it down, so I definitely recommend it as a summer read.
Wendig does not give us a color-by-numbers haunted house tale. There is a science behind the supernatural. What at first appear to be ghosts turn out to be the product of parallel timelines bleeding over into this one. This creates opportunities for characters to make peace with their pasts through alternate versions of themselves and others.
I found the scenes between Nate and his dead father particularly touching.
There were some structural shortcomings, however. The magical system, for lack of a better term, is never fully understood by either the reader or the characters, giving the ending a deus ex machina feel. And while using a multiverse setting was useful for the plot, it also lowers the stakes for the reader — if there are multiple versions of each character, an individual death isn’t as devastating.
It also negates the freewill that drives a good vs. evil narrative. Is the Graves family good by choice or by chance? If an evil version of them necessarily exists (as it must in a many-worlds reality), is that version truly evil?
At a certain point, I put quantum mechanics aside and just enjoyed the book for what it was: a fun, unique, well-constructed horror novel that probably won’t keep you up at night — but it will keep you reading through to the end.