Why would you read a book about a fictional pandemic when there’s an actual pandemic happening, people ask? I think it’s perfect timing. I spent the first several chapters comparing the beginning of the made-up super-flu pandemic of 1990 to the current world wide spread of COVID-19, diligently jotting down notes about what the president of the USA said (for example, ‘My fellow Americans, I urge you to stay at home. If you feel ill, stay in bed, take aspirin, and drink plenty of clear liquids. Be confident that you will feel better in a week at most. Let me repeat what I said at the beginning of my talk to you this evening: There is no truth – no truth – to the rumour that this strain of flu is fatal.’) and how eerily it corresponded to reality.
I also liked the predictions of the environment healing as the population declined: ‘Smoke was no longer billowing from the stacks of the textile mill. The gaudy stripes and eddies of dye in the river had dissipated and the water ran clear and clean again.’ This correlates with news articles here in Australia about the state of national parks improving significantly in just months without human visitors (not to be confused, of course, with the imaginings of dolphins in the Venice canals, which I have also heard on the news!).
However… about a third of the way in, I just settled into the storyline and the characters, and stopped comparing. The characters are so well formed and the stories (both the main plotline and the little sidebars that Stephen King seems to be so good at) really grabbed my interest. I just couldn’t wait to learn more about the characters and find out what was going to happen next!
This is a good vs. evil/God vs. the devil tale, with King’s classic touch of the supernatural. Once almost all the population of the United States has been wiped out by the super-flu, the survivors start to come together in two camps, one in Las Vegas and one in Boulder. One of the new society’s leaders is pure evil, and the other is just pure. Which one will prevail? Will a re-formed society just make the same mistakes all over again? Will the next generation be immune to the disease that wiped out their parents and grandparents? For anyone who hasn’t read this yet, I won’t give away any spoilers. But I will recommend that you read this book. After all, with lockdowns still in place, when will there ever be a better time to commit yourself to 1345 pages of Stephen King?