An entertaining political satire that follows the handling of a national medical crisis both in the White House and in the lab.
Around the year 2030, a new flulike viral disease emerges mainly in the United States. No problem: Science has invented Dormigen, a drug that effectively treats viral and bacterial infections. Yes problem: A warehouse fire destroys some of the federal government’s supply of Dormigen, and the private company that produces the fallback stockpile tries to cut corners. The awful upshot as the death count from the new bug rises: Washington may have to ration existing supplies if the National Institutes of Health can’t save the day. Wheelan (Naked Money, 2016, etc.) teaches public policy at Dartmouth, has written primers on economics and statistics, and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. His narrator is a 30-year-old scientist and purported author of a book called The Rationing about his experience as one of the NIH researchers seeking a cure and given access to White House meetings. While the narrative’s science side is by turns interesting or tedious, the insider’s view of the political turmoil is the big draw of this debut novel. In a Hollywood pitch, it would be a mashup of Dustin Hoffman films: Outbreak meets Wag the Dog. But it’s more like a West Wing marathon, with Sorkin-esque dialogue, well-drawn characters, and sharp-edged infighting. Meaty subplots and sidebars arise. A feisty famous older woman starts a national death watch when she refuses available Dormigen on principle. China mounts a clumsy tradeoff by offering its stores of the drug in exchange for unfettered Asian dominance and more parking spaces at the U.N. India’s prime minister links sharing his supply to a PR campaign involving toilets and televisions. There’s almost too much going on. Still, the pages generally flutter by quickly, fueled by the political heat and Wheelan’s smooth, workmanlike prose.
A highly readable and intelligent first novel.