I read Alicia Ryan’s previous novel The First Vampire, about Samson and Delilah, and was impressed. Ryan is a competent story teller and an above-average world builder. In Black-Winged Tuesday, I was not sure what to expect because it’s quite a departure from The First Vampire.
Herman Morrie is an unlucky guy, and Tuesdays in particular are often filled with disaster. When Herman dies from a jet engine dropping from the sky onto his home, it just had to happen on a Tuesday. Herman’s transition from mortal to immortal is interesting, as Ryan chooses familiar situations like an airport counter and waiting in line to get into an event to show us the difficulties Herman now confronts in the afterlife. It’s amusing to imagine such a common and familiar a transition as opposed to the glory of the pearly gates and a daunting angelic presence.
The principal storyline deals with the moral conflict between good and evil. Herman is assigned as a guardian angel to an unassuming accountant who is harassed by his boss, unable to attract the interest of a girl, and suffering from lycanthropy that turns him into a beaver when he is stressed out. Herman’s assigned partner on this mission is as light-hearted and frivolous as Herman is solid and diligent. That’s where things get interesting, because Herman has attracted the interest of powers much greater than his normal peers.
Ryan’s depiction of the world and her combination of bad, neutral and good guardian angels is kind of fun. It’s odd in a sense, because morality becomes subject, more or less, to the interpretation of an individual. Where one person may consider rampant alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity as inappropriate and bad behavior, another might consider those simple lifestyle choices. It’s a little too relativistic for my own outlook, but for the purposes of the novel it opens the doors to all sorts of interesting situations.
Herman undergoes a lot of pain and personal growth as he learns lessons about who he really is, not the life that he chose to lead. For me, this was really interesting as I wondered how many of us would consider ourselves and our strengths and positive attributes differently if we were able to take an almost third-party perspective for a time. For Herman, learning who he can be and that his worth is much greater than he ever imagined is powerful, and opens him to a profound evolution of perspective and self-worth. Ryan is careful through all of this to maintain ties to the person who Herman was, instead of having him shed his former self as if he had never been.
I enjoyed Black-Winged Tuesday for the moral ideas that I found there much more than for the actual story. Herman and his partner Price are a fun odd-couple pairing, but most of the other characters were just not very interesting to me. Getting behind the story and exploring Ryan’s original take on morality was much more enjoyable, and I would readily consider reading another book like this from her.