The world is facing a deadly new virus. Sound familiar? In this instance, I’m speaking of Kevin E. Ready’s fiction, not fact; however, this particular story says a lot about the current state of the world.
Ready’s novel Viral (Saint Gaudens Press) chronicles the moves of various individuals across the globe as they encounter a new strain of avian flu:
The story begins in late February with two nursing students in Egypt, one of whom contracts the virus after contact with ill patients. Then, moving to North Eastern China, we meet Quan Li, the director of a poultry processing plant, as he deals with the sudden death of one of the plant’s flocks. At a conference in Maryland, we meet Dr. Zhao Xiang, the Director of the Chinese vaccine production program, and Dr. Karen Llewellyn whose recent promotion has her running a new government-owned vaccine plant in California. Back in China, a woman named Qiuyue, who works at one of the poultry processing plants, carries out her job not knowing that the dead birds she’s handling will infect her. In Los Angeles, Matt Relford, an officer at the Sheriff’s station, is sent on a civil eviction errand that exposes him to the virus.
READY’S GLOBAL NARRATIVE
The narrative unfolds both chronologically and globally, moving forward a couple of days at a time while focusing on a number of characters from around the world — some, like Dr. Xiang and Dr. Llewellyn, we’ll cross paths with several times and others we’ll meet only once. We are privy to correspondence between and within countries and health organizations as they all struggle to pinpoint the exact strain of flu and determine how it is spreading. Meanwhile, flights are being rerouted, people are being quarantined, and it is apparent that the end will not come without casualties.
Ready’s novel takes on a truly global perspective in the wake of a quickly spreading virus. From government officials to corporate employees to health care workers to scientists trying to develop a vaccine to the animals carrying the disease, his readers experience as big a picture of the pandemic as possible.
In our current climate, facing a real pandemic, readers may wish to shy away from books like Viral, choosing instead to read books that allow for escape. As I picked up this book, I’ll admit I was apprehensive about diving headfirst into a novel that felt too much like reality, but the truth is that Ready’s work was not frightening, nor did it remind me of the overwhelming sense of uncertainty we’ve all been experiencing over the past few months. Instead, Viral felt enlightening. I felt as if I had a better understanding of all the recent chaos because I wasn’t looking at a pandemic from the perspective of an individual person or nation. I was seeing the complex, global network of decisions and events that lead to the spread of a virus, followed by the steps to find a solution.
AN INFORMATIVE AND HOPEFUL STORY
Ready’s novel tackles the roles that politics, religion and economics play in the process of understanding and dealing with a virus of this magnitude. He also sheds light on today’s immunization industry alongside the numerous organizations across the globe designed to control and prevent the spread of disease as well as promote health.
The author finished Viral earlier this year, having the unique and rather eerie opportunity to allow news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic to inform his fictional story. In his afterword, Ready explains that his novel “is set a few years hence and pretends we have learned something from coronavirus,” — one of the few predictions in his book we can all hope to be true.
Viral is not fiction meant to scare its readers. It is fiction meant to inform and, in some ways, it’s the herald of hope for our uncertain present. Although Ready’s work “was meant to be creative, not prophetic,” there is something to be said for understanding potential crises enough to accurately predict them.
Viral is now available for purchase.