Survivor Song By Paul Tremblay
Paul Tremblay’s latest release, Survivor Song, is a beast. At 320 pages, that is hard to imagine, maybe. However, it is undoubtedly the truth. Many will avoid Survivor Song for a multitude of reasons. The tangible reasons I will dispel with a quickness. The intangible ones? Well. My insight might sound patronizing or unempathetic. Truthfully, it is not something I would typically say. Survivor song is an exception, and so I’m going to ixnay the intangible reasons many would skip over Tremblay’s latest, as well. So, let’s get down to it, shall we? This won’t be long because A) the book isn’t long and B) like many M.R. Carey books, there is so much you just can’t say.
I WAS WRONG
I imagine many were, but maybe it was just me. Here is a tangible reason to NOT skip Survivor Song. THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT ZOMBIES.
This is not a spoiler. Survivor Song is not about a dystopian mystery. The reader is let in right away about what is happening. Rabies has mutated into a potent epidemic in the North East, affecting both humans and animals. Once it reaches the brain, people attack each other, just as animals would attack. There is no coming back from the dead or not being able to kill them without putting a stake through the brain. Much to my hysterical laughter, it emphatically stated with my favorite saying- “DEAD IS DEAD.” It becomes a bit of comic relief throughout the book.
No one is rising from the dead. Sounds silly to have to say because it’s so obvious, right? Dead is dead. There’s no coming back… They’re sick people and they turn delusional and violent and they bite, but it’s easier to say zombie than “a person infected with a super rabies virus and no longer capable of making good decisions.”
To be brutally honest, the scenario Tremblay creates when the infection grips people, is a level of grotesque that the Walking Dead hasn’t even come to match.
Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, states it so many times, and with such ferocity that it becomes comedic relief. Especially after encountering teenagers convinced, they are in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.
Josh says, “Makes sense but ‘don’t split up’ is, like, the number-two rule of the zomb apoc.”
Luis says, “Guy. Don’t. I hate it when characters say ‘zombos’ or ‘walkers’ or something else so writer’s room. Just fucking say ‘zombies’.”
Ramola shouts, “There are no zombies! This is not the apocalypse! You must stop saying that. It’s not helping.”
So. Yeah. NO ZOMBIES. Scratch that tangible cliché off your list. Survivor Song, for all its inflicting pain, has a message.
Two Women And A Baby
Now that you know what Survivor Song is not about, let’s talk a bit about what it is. Again, there aren’t any spoilers here. Tremblay kicks this book off with a gruesome bang. Natalie is pregnant. VERY PREGNANT. Unfortunately, she’s very pregnant in the middle of a mass quarantine due to this rabies outbreak. Her husband has gone to get their rationed food, and when he gets back, things go south in a hurry. Before they have a chance to close the door, an infected person invades, killing him and biting Natalie.
Start the clock. The unknown clock (time before all hope is lost, unknown) to get to a vaccine/treatment of unknown effectiveness that might or might not save her but, at the very least, save her unborn baby. Enter her best friend and Doctor, Ramola Sherman. Told from two points of view, Survivor Song covers one day as two women race against the clock, obstacles, and an infrastructure breakdown.
The horror of the virus that they encounter runs parallel with their own fears. Dr. Sherman is watching as time tics down on whether Natalie will succumb to the infection, becoming a threat to her, and possibly the baby. Tremblay doesn’t leave the shock factor to carry the story. Both Dr. Sherman and Natalie are sympathetic, realistic women that transport you into these hideous circumstances.
Thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
One mom, trying to fight for herself and her baby, and a best friend, also a doctor who wants to hope against her own medical background that she can save the two lives in her hands. The array of characters that they come into contact throughout the twenty-four hours demonstrate the best and worst in humanity during such times. Even within the main characters, there are layers of imperfections within their best intentions- some selfish as they might be.
Situations unfold with despicable decisions made against people’s will, whether they agree with them or not, ethical or not. Paranoia, conspiracies, and politics are already coming to ahead. Tremblay has a view and message to get across. That doesn’t get in the way of the story and isn’t revealed until towards the end of the story when it is spelled out and then left alone.
What is most impressive about Survivor Song is Tremblay’s ability to balance everything that he accomplishes within 320 pages. It is a horrific thriller about a virus that will cause many physical reactions as you read. It is also much more than that.
The characters along the way all have stories to tell, representing the different ways society, people, and rise-up and break down during times of crisis. As it is stated multiple times, Tremblay wants you to know that this is not a fairytale or movie. It is a song. There isn’t a perfect, happy ending. Nothing within the course of the story is ever neat or tidy. Not the characters, not the situation.
There are glimpses of hope and times of terror. Within each, there are hidden layers of the best and worst of what humanity can be, and what happens when fear grips us all. Survivor Song isn’t a book to run from. Value your verbal (or reading) shocks. Survivor Song will endure. It will stick in your gut, and it should. Especially with the time we currently live in. There are lessons to be learned, nightmares to be faced, and hope to be found, no matter how flawed it might be.