This is a LOOONG book. Long enough I had real trouble holding it to read in the bath. It kind of reminded me a lot of The Stand, but more contemporary. Very much more contemporary. Eerily so, to be honest. This book was published in 2019, so was written well before COVID first reared its ugly little head, yet reading it now, you'd never believe the author hadn't already lived through 2020. Does Chuck Wendig have a time machine? An uncanny psychic brain? Access to his own invention, Black Swan?
I don't know. But he sure got a lot of stuff right.
The book starts with a teenage girl, Shana, finding her sister, Nessie, in the throes of a mysterious affliction. She walks, seeming without purpose, and can't be stopped. If she's grabbed, or detained or in any way thwarted in her progress, her temperature rises and she starts swelling. Obviously Shana lets go.
Soon another walker joins Nessie. The another and another. Every couple of hours a new one joins what becomes known eventually as "the flock". Police are called, but when they try to detain one of the walkers, he basically explodes.
Then the medics are called in. The disease control specialists. Is this some new plague? Aided by a seemingly sentient computer called Black Swan, Dr. Benjy Ray gets called in to help. An infectious disease expert, he's been out of a job for a while after falsifying some data during a previous case. He's only allowed back in now because for some reason, the AI wants him and only him.
The book wanders with the flock and the disease experts as they traverse the country, following the increasingly large crowd to an unknown destination. Meanwhile, a small-town priest tries to make sense of what is going on through his own lens and winds up capturing the attention of some white suprematists who are using this strange plague to further their own agenda.
I won't spoil the book for you by telling you exactly what happens, but I found it odd how neatly the plot captured so much about the world COVID left us with. The way the world has become so divisive. The growing power of these terrifying right-wing organisations with their guns and sense of superiority. The fear of disease and attendant fear of other people. The government's seeming unwillingness to do something before it was too late.
Like I said, did the author travel through time?
I enjoyed this book, even though I felt like it meandered a bit. I didn't mind that though because it really captured the daily boredom of following something like this. The doggedness of wanting to know what's going on, but being unable to make sense of any of it. The way humanity can be at both its best and its worst simultaneously.
So I'd recommend it.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other "shepherds" who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them--and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them--the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart--or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.