A mordantly comic debut novel about plague, addiction and botched romance.
First, there’s Lucy. She’s an addict. She’s tried 12-step programs, rehab and working on a kosher chicken farm, but nothing seems to help. Then there’s her mother, who is also an addict and even less committed to sobering up than Lucy. There’s her grandmother, Agneth, who believes in reincarnation, and her preteen half sister, Hannah, who spends her free time studying infectious diseases and hanging out with white-supremacist fundamentalist Christians. There’s also Stanley, a co-worker from the chicken farm, who is trying to find someone to gestate his dead wife’s frozen gametes. There are the many dead, yet present, souls who inhabit (sort of) the novel’s living characters. Then there’s Lucy’s father, who recently killed himself after a deadly virus went missing from his lab. Finally, there’s the rest of the world, already enduring an age of anxiety and now just beginning to panic about the “superplague” that’s on the loose. Lucy is a loser and rather addled, but she’s an engaging narrator, and her views on addiction and recovery are frequently funny and insightful. She stops into a 12-step meeting just after the virus has started to take its first victims and offers this assessment: “The meeting goes on. No one mentions superplague, but then no one would. We are entirely too self-centered to let such matters upstage miseries of our own devising.” This observation captures much of the action in the novel. Maazel deftly depicts how routine trumps crisis, and how personal dramas tend to take precedence over global catastrophes. Lucy, for example, is far more angst-ridden over a failed romance than she is about looming mass extinction. Killer viruses, when they appear in fiction, are generally the catalyst for fast-paced thrills, and there is a certain off-kilter appeal to Maazel’s slower, more intimate and aimless approach. But, ultimately, the pace is just too slow, and the novel’s concerns too broad and muddled for a truly satisfying narrative.
A first novel that shows promise of better work to come.