SURVIVOR SONG: A NOVEL
[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]
AUTHOR: Paul Tremblay
ISBN: 978-0-06-267916-1; hardcover; 6 in x 9 in; (July 7, 2020)
320pp, B&W, $27.99 U.S.
Survivor Song: A Novel is the latest novel from author Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts). A suspense novel, Survivor Song follows two women, longtime friends, on a journey across an epidemic landscape to save one of the women... or, at least, her unborn child.
Survivor Song opens in the present or the near-future. An insidious rabies-like virus, commonly called “super-rabies,” that is spread by saliva, has overrun Massachusetts. Unlike rabies, this new disease has a short incubation period of an hour or less, and the infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and to infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb to the infection. Massachusetts has tried to limit the spread of this outbreak by putting the entire state (commonwealth) under quarantine and by initiating a curfew, but society is starting to break down, and the sick and the dying are inundating hospitals.
One evening during this outbreak, Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie “Nats” Larsen, a longtime and dear friend who is eight months pregnant. It seems that an infected neighbor viciously attacked and killed Natalie's husband, Paul. The super-rabies-infected neighbor also bit Natalie as she fought to save Paul.
Natalie's only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible in order to receive the super-rabies vaccine. And she needs Ramola's help getting to a hospital. The clock is ticking for Natalie and for her unborn child, and Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Ramola make their way through a landscape turned hostile by the outbreak. Terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges push Nats and Rams to the brink, so will they make it in time to save Nats... or at least, her unborn child?
THE LOWDOWN: Back in 2015, while looking through a list of review copies that publisher William Morrow's marketing department was offering to reviewers, I came across a book entitled A Head Full of Ghosts, written by Paul Tremblay. I loved the title, and I was intrigued by the book's premise. Although I thought it was well written, I really did not enjoy reading A Head Full of Ghosts, so the next time, William Morrow offered a novel by Tremblay, I passed.
When Survivor Song was offered, I was intrigued by both the title and the premise, especially the latter. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I have been interested in books, movies, and television programs about epidemics, pandemics, and outbreaks – either as works of fiction or non-fiction.
Even in the well worn genre of the “riveting novel of suspense,” Survivor Song manages to be fresh and surprising. The novel is not like any other viral outbreak story. It is detailed in a way that sets the reader in the scene, but without robbing readers of the right to fill in a scene or a setting with their own imagination. Survivor Song is viscerally frightening, but the narrative is equally deeply emotional in a way that will make it resonate with readers.
Survivor Song is also something else. It is timely and prescient. Although I clearly understood this novel to be a work of fiction, I found myself often feeling that I was reading a long feature article about our current, environmental mini-apocalypse, the kind one would find in The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, or any number of progressive magazines... or perhaps, a non-fiction book expanded from that kind of feature article. Paul Tremblay has fashioned in Survivor Song a novel that is so chilling because it is so much about us and our times. He is not afraid to sprinkle witty social and political asides that are obviously about President Donald, his cult, and sadly, about the rest of us who would turn into monsters the minute things (like society and comforts) start to break down.
Survivor Song is all too plausible because a version of its dark fairy tale is already happening. Yes, it is a wonderful tale of friendship and commitment told as a road trip through insta-dystopia that will reassure you, dear readers, about humanity... but. Damn, Paul Tremblay, what a wonderful novel you have written in Survivor Song. Damn you, Tremblay, for telling the awful truth.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Fans of Paul Tremblay and fans of scary, but all-too-plausible novels will want to read Survivor Song.
10 out of 10
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"
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