The hype surrounding Paul Tremblay is one that I have wanted to check out for years. Tremblay is a horror author widely noted as one of the greats of this day and age. I was sadly, sorely disappointed.

The Plot

Survivor Song follows Dr. Ramola Sherman and her friend Natalie, eight months pregnant, as they navigate the landscape of a pandemic. In under a month, a mutated rabies virus spread by saliva, aka being bitten by a ravenous infected person or animal, has ravaged the Northeast.

The rabies virus is like no one has seen before. Within an hour, the infected becomes delirious and begins attacking victims at a super-human pace. The virus is easily spread, and quickly. To limit the spread of the virus, quarantining and curfew rules are in place. Society begins to break down into a post-apocalyptic state in this novel as preparations and attempts to stop the virus fail.

Natalie becomes infected when a ravenous neighbor attacks her and her husband, killing him. Ramola races to get Natalie a vaccine within an hour and prays that it will work. As Ramola and Natalie navigate the world in a rabies infested pandemic, they come across characters and situations that are morally corrupt and hard to traverse. Survivor Song preys on the horror tradition most notably seen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where a pair attempts to find meaning and hope in a sickness infested wasteland.

The Elephant in the Room

Reading this novel in the midst of an actual global pandemic was quite the experience. This novel was published in early 2020, way before Tremblay and his development of the novel could have known this would happen to our modern-day world. It is eerie that details in his novel echo what we are going through during this last year: quarantines and curfews, a race for a vaccine, increasing numbers of deaths each day.

“I’m going to stop now, I think. We’ll talk again later. I promise. If I break the promise, please know I didn’t mean to. It sucks, but promises get broken all the time. Promises are like wishes. Yeah. They’re great as long as you know they won’t always help and won’t always come true.”

– Natalie, as she records a message for her unborn child

The Verdict

The concept for the novel was a familiar one and had the potential to really unease and alarm the reader. However, the execution fell flat for me. With a 3.66 rating on Goodreads, it looks like most other readers felt the same way. Firstly, the novel could have been edited down to half its size. The novel follows Ramola and Natalie’s race for help – that is all.

There were many places where a useless conversation took up pages or the sentence level writing was easily skimmed or skippable. Every word should be important in horror to create a vibe that readers are left with, hanging onto every word. I should not want to skip sections in a novel like this. The stakes should feel high, and they did not except for the last fifty pages or so. This is where the best writing was.

I wanted more from Tremblay and his reputation, and I can really only say it was mediocre.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)