Chuck Wendig’s Wayward Felt Too Realistic To Be Called Hopeful, But That’s Still How I’d Describe It

Just as a note, there will be heavy plot spoilers for Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers since this blog post is about the sequal, Wayward. There will also be some spoilers for that, but not as many. The final end and major plot points of Wanderers will definitely come up, but I’ll be avoiding most of the plot of Wayward except for a few non-specific mentions here or there.

After returning from my vacation and enduring a pretty heft sinus cold, I finally sat down to finish reading Chuck Wendig’s Wayward. Generally speaking, I expected myself to struggle with this book. After all, it is very long, I haven’t really had the mental capacity for reading much, and I stuggled with the prequel, Wanderers, because it wound up hitting me pretty heavily, emotionally speaking. As did Wendig’s other book. The Book of Accidents. I love the man’s writing, but I’ve grown cautious of it, sensing a bit of a thematic kinship between myself and him, at least in the things we find it interesting to write about. I didn’t think it would hit my quite as hard as The Book of Accidents did, since that was more explicitly about generational trauma, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it a more cathartic than stressful experience. While there is some possibility that the events in this book will, in retrospect, also seem somewhat prophetic (something Wendig comments on in regard to Wanderers with some of the interstial text found before the start of chapters in Wayward), it leaves the reader on a somewhat more positive note.

Sure, Wanderers had a lot to say about both the best and the worst that Humanity could offer, showcasing not just the horrible things we’ll do for what seems like far too little reason but also the lengths that we will go to in order to protect and care for the ones we love (and, on occasion, perfect strangers). It was just difficult to focus on all of that as, in the primary world, the alt-right rose and it seemed like they were posed to not only maintain their power but continue to build it. It felt prophetic. And then it sort of was, in some ways. Pandemic, worsening alt-right violence, more guns, etc. It was rough. Especially considering the book ends on a sour note that strongly suggested maleavolence and potential future doom. Which we then saw play out in Wayward.

Probably my favorite part of Wayward is that it takes the god-like entity established in the first novel and starts to concretely point out the flaws we began to guess at toward the end of Wanderers. It makes it clear that everything has limitations and even something that seems almighty and infallible can mess up the instant analysis turns to action. Even the supposedly perfect community begins to finally show the signs of cracks that began during the time the community was kept asleep by the AI that brought them together. Patterns are hinted at, revealed, and twisted as time passes and the troubles that rumbled beneath the surface at the end of Wanderers emerge into the sun in Wayward. It truly is a magnificent example of foreshadowing and payoff. What Wendig TRULY excels at, though, is showing the real humanity of the people in his stories, be they shining paragons of doing right by each other or truly horrible people who would leave the world a better place without them in it. They’re all human, after all, even if we’d prefer to pretend they were monsters.

Thankfully, Wayward ends a bit more definitively and hopefully. I wouldn’t say that Wanderers wasn’t hopeful, just that it was darkly hopeful if it was hopeful at all. It reflected a moment in time we could see on the horizon that came to pass in the year after the book was published and it was not a good experience for any decent person. Wayward ends with the reminder that people are just people and that our strength lies in our ability to form communities. The people seen in the second novel that are doing the best are the ones who have come together and done what they can to take care of each other. There is plenty of violence and plenty of caution in those communities, but there is an openness to the idea that other poeple just want to live the best lives they can in what remains of the world. It wraps up with the idea that all we can do is muddle through and rely on each other to shore up our weaknesses as other people rely on us to do the same. No one person has all the answers and anyone thinking that is dangerous to the well-being of others.

I would suggest giving the twelve hundred page tome a read if you’ve got the time and enjoyed Wanderers. Or, if you’re looking for a pair of books about the way that humanity gets itself into and then out of tough situations, the pair of Wanderers and Wayward are great for that. I enjoyed them both, even if the first was a difficult read. I imagine it’s a bit easier, nowadays, since it seems less prophetic and stressful since we’re past the point of things getting worse and have hit the point of apparently making our peace with hundreds of people dying every day of a disease that we could have tried to eradicate rather than let run rampant because of dumb ideas about personal freedoms. Anyway, they’re good books, the writing is stellar, and Wendig’s writing will carry you through either one faster than you expect it to. You really can’t go wrong with any of his recent work.

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