Review: “Survivor Song,” Paul Tremblay

Rating: 5 out of 5

In Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song: A Novel, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Well okay, not really. Anyone can tell you the infected people are very much alive and are not zombies. It also isn’t an apocalypse as far as the world is concerned–mostly just in this one part of Massachusetts. But as far as Natalie and Ramola are concerned, it might as well be a zombie apocalypse. Natalie is very pregnant, due in 15 days, and she was just bitten by someone who has contracted a super-virulent new rabies virus. The normal rabies virus takes a lot of time to work its way to the brain, so there’s plenty of time to receive life-saving treatment before that happens. This virus is said to make it there within an hour. The hospitals are overwhelmed, so Natalie goes to her best friend Ramola, who happens to be a pediatrician and who thinks she can get Natalie into the hospital. From there it’s a terrifying journey as Natalie fights to make it long enough for her baby to be born by c-section.

Some of the details are so spot-on with what we’ve seen with Covid-19, such as the lack of proper PPE. Obviously, since these patients become dangerous, there’s also some real differences. Ramola has to keep a very close eye on Natalie for signs and symptoms of the disease, while doing everything she can to get her to an operating room.

It becomes easy to see how people could do foolish things, risking many lives in order to save one or two. It really hits home how invested you can get in making this one miracle happen. Natalie is so amazingly strong for her baby, despite being frequently on the edge of a very understandable hysteria. Ramola is such a wonderful character as well, strong in a very different way from Natalie. She very much believes in order, and science, and rationality, but irrational things are happening all around her.

We also get to know Josh and Luis, two young men who seem happy to be in the zombie apocalypse, but maybe aren’t as macho as they think. It seems like they’re going to fall into a stereotype of false bravado, but they become so much more than that.

We do see one group of self-appointed militia, but this is no white-guy gun-nut fantasy to be catered to. They’re out of their league.

While reading this book I felt an unease that turned to dread as it pooled in my stomach. I shed a few tears, I’m not ashamed to say. This is a surprisingly realistic look at a type of disease that could happen and could really wreak havoc on society, even if just in limited ways or limited areas. Highly recommended.

Content note for mild gore.

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