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Survivor Song


Survivor Song

Paul Tremblay’s latest novel is so timely, it’s spooky. For a horror writer, what could be better?

In SURVIVOR SONG, Tremblay offers a fast-paced yet thoughtful look at the start of an outbreak of a mutated rabies virus. This virulent strain has spread like wildfire among wild and domestic animals in the American northeast and has jumped to humans, causing them to move to violence and word salad. There is all the frenzy of a zombie story, coupled with some elements of a medical thriller, as Tremblay zeroes in --- with laser focus --- on two women trying to survive and safely bring a new life into a dangerous and uncertain world.

Just as her Massachusetts town begins to shut down to try to slow the spread of the virus, Natalie’s husband, Paul, heads to a National Guard rations distribution point to pick up supplies. As he is coming back into the house, he is attacked by an infected man and killed in his living room. Natalie is also bitten and knows that she has less than one hour to get the first injection to treat the virus before becoming fatally infected herself. To further complicate this horrific situation, she is nine months pregnant.

"Despite (or because of) the fact that it hits so close to home right now, SURVIVOR SONG is an enjoyable and exciting diversion."

Natalie’s instinct is to go to her closest friend, Ramola Sherman, a pediatrician who lives close by. When she shows up at Ramola’s place about 30 minutes after the incident, the two have almost no time to get to the hospital for treatment. However, just getting there is hard enough. Although Natalie receives the initial vaccine treatment, she is evacuated right after they arrive, and it is later determined that she needs a C-section as soon as possible.

What follows is Natalie and Ramola’s frantic journey from one hospital to another --- by ambulance, on the back of bicycles belonging to repentant teenage warriors, in the truck of a vigilante mob, and finally on foot to an abandoned house. Even though there seems to be good remedies and preventative measures in place to deal with this outbreak, the cases are quickly overwhelming communities. Time is of the essence. For Natalie, still reeling from Paul’s terrifying death, she is racing against two clocks: the one where she can get medical care for herself and the one that allows her baby to be born safely.

Tremblay employs a few conceits --- for example, a prelude, an interlude and a “postlude” --- that are distinctly presented but don’t actually seem that different narratively from the rest of the novel. Overall, however, the book feels cohesive, and is well-paced and entertaining, if not totally original in concept. Both Natalie and Ramola are strong and interesting characters. Tremblay gives readers just enough of their backstories to flesh them out but doesn’t slow down or burden what is really an action-driven tale of survival. They are the center of the story, and there are few other characters introduced.

Two are noteworthy, though. Luis and Josh are the teens who help Natalie and Ramola at a critical stage in their journey. They are funny and heartbreaking versions of the monster-fighting-kid trope who Tremblay wisely follows even after they part ways with the women.

There is no way that Tremblay could have known as he was writing this book that it would be published during a global pandemic. Yet there are passages that are eerily prescient. Despite (or because of) the fact that it hits so close to home right now, SURVIVOR SONG is an enjoyable and exciting diversion.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 10, 2020

Survivor Song
by Paul Tremblay