“Section Six,” by Jim Shepard (Alfred A. Knopf)
After greater than a yr of residing with the devastation of the coronavirus, you would possibly suppose you’re not prepared for a fictional pandemic — however you’d be fallacious. Jim Shepard’s new novel, “Section Six,” is a fast-paced, suspenseful story about what occurs when a distinct microbe is unleashed on the world.
It begins in Greenland, the place 11-year-old Aleq and his finest pal, Malik, trespass onto a mining website and are unwittingly uncovered to a long-buried pathogen that inside days will wipe out their distant settlement and unfold throughout the globe.
Curiously, Aleq stays immune, making him affected person zero — the main target of a sprawling medical investigation led by two feisty girls from the CDC. Quickly he’s whisked off to a lab within the U.S., the place he struggles with the conclusion that he could also be liable for the deaths of everybody he ever liked.
Unusually sufficient, Shepard started the guide 4 years in the past after studying a few boy in Siberia killed by rejuvenated anthrax spores that had been frozen in a reindeer carcass. When the guide was being edited final yr, he added some COVID-19 references simply because the virus was beginning its rampage.
Shepard has lengthy excelled at writing about arcane topics. Right here he additionally manages to maintain his human protagonists and their sophisticated, contradictory feelings entrance and middle. Whereas among the relationships don’t fairly add up, his mordant observations concerning the flawed response to the fictional outbreak — on the a part of governments, politicians, the medical insurance business and the web — supply a well timed critique of what went fallacious in actual life.
Nonetheless, Shepard will not be a polemicist or a hack. If something, he’s a moralist, deeply involved concerning the looming disaster of world warming and the deadly penalties of a society that places earnings above all the things, giving mining corporations an incentive to drill in locations they don’t belong. So, whereas the novel is thrilling, it’s much less of a thriller than a love story — an ode to household, buddies, lovers, arduous work and the gorgeous, heartbreaking innocence of childhood.
It begins with 4 pithy epigraphs, together with from Mike Tyson (“Everybody has a plan, till they get punched within the mouth”) and Louis Pasteur (“Gents, it’s the microbes who could have the final phrase.”) Have been it not so ceaselessly invoked, he would possibly nicely have added E.M. Forster’s “Solely join” — as a result of one among his themes is that for higher or worse, we’re all linked.
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