Ever read a book that you were really excited about, but found it to be not at all what you thought? That is what happened when I read The Flu by Jacqueline Druga. This book describes the reemergence of the deadly 1918 Spanish Flu that killed between 50 to 100 million people worldwide. I expected a nail-biting thriller filled with dread, but instead got a lighthearted love story that morphed into a gut-wrenching emotional experience.
A version of the Spanish Flu virus is held in a research facility in Alaska, which loses power and thus releases the third strain of the H1N1 virus. Initially following an Eskimo home and then a photographer, the virus spreads quickly, shutting down each state as it moves from community to community. This is NOT a zombie book, but instead looks at the step-by-step process of dealing with an extinction event.
The story follows several different character plots that eventually converge in Lodi, OH, the last flu-free town in the US. Jeff Bloom and Darrell Harden, two very unprofessional FBI agents, are hunting for a Ricardo Rodriguez, who is wanted for siphoning money from government accounts. They know exactly where he is, in Lodi of course, but want to stretch their road trip by a detour through Los Angeles. Gambling and drinking take up more time than actual detective work.
Next we meet Dylan Hughes and her very broken family. She is separated from her husband Sam and is seeing Mick Hogan, the police chief of Lodi. This love triangle has been ongoing since the trio was in high school, and this story line proves to be the heart of the book. In the end, this book is really the love story of Mick and Dylan set to the backdrop of the plague.
Lastly, we have Lars Rayburn, Kurt Wilson, and Henry Davis. These three doctors are the medical side of this story. Lars is an expert in the Bubonic Plague and Spanish Flu, and has been waiting for this epidemic for decades. Kurt and Henry are all that’s left of the WHO and the CDC. They forgo trying to find a cure for the flu, and instead focus on containment and treatment by closing down states and asking residents to wait it out.
As I said, I definitely did not get what I was expecting in reading this book.
The first section, fittingly called “The Onset”, chronicles the race to find and contain the virus. That race gives a great sense of suspense and tension as you hope for containment yet know that will not be the case. The first half feels like the movie Outbreak set in Alaska. This was great!! I was definitely pulled in and anxious over who was gonna get the virus next.
This suspense died quickly, however, as it became clear that Druga was not going to kill off any main characters in the second section titled “Abated Hope.” Druga’s filmmaker roots come through loud and clear as the story moves along episodically through this section. There are a few WTF moments, but overall this section is very predictable.
It is not until the last section, “Walls of Jericho… Tumble” does the book really take off again. Up to this point, there is no sense of impending doom; only unending hope – I almost lost my lunch. From this point on, not only is no one safe, but Druga takes you right to the bedside of the dying and their families. This was missing throughout most of the book – I actually found myself rolling my eyes at the frivolous arguments between Mick and Dylan. We finally hear not the second hand suffering of strangers and anonymous patients suffering from the flu, but the actual last moments of characters to which we have grown attached.
My mother passed away from Cancer in February of 2011, and reading the death of a loved one in this book brought me to tears as it perfectly described the quiet moments before the end when, as a family, you rally together to comfort both the sick and each other. In this moment I understood why Druga took such laissez-faire tone during the bulk of this novel. In real life, we hear about dying and suffering every day on the news and yet it doesn’t mean anything to us. It is when we have it in our own homes that it becomes real.
Because of this rollercoaster, I highly recommend this book to any and every one. There are light-hearted moments and interesting characters which make it entertaining but a surprising depth that sneaks up on you takes you full circle.
The Flu is published by Permuted Press
What a ride… how long is this book?
It was only 309 pages but it felt longer. I was so emotionally drawn in It totally felt like I was watching a series rather than reading a book.
Sounds quite interesting, definitely not what I was expecting when I read about it either.
I have to admit that I bawled like a baby towards the end of this book. I usually stop reading something that makes me that emotional but I’m glad I pushed through and finished it.
Sounds like it really invoked some emotion. That’s really saying something.
Wild ride of a book!
I’ve read this book several times and have bawled each time. I love it. Thanks for a great review!
Glad I’m not the only one. I was affected for days. lol
Thank you so much for the great review! You nailed it on the head with why I wrote it the way I did. I was striving to have the readers unknowingly become very emotionally vested in the Lodi people so when the big bang occurs, the reader will feel it as if they were there. I am glad you enjoyed it, trust me it was emotionally hard to write.
Sounds like you’ve got quite a few fans here, Jacqueline!
Thank you Dave, it feels nice!
You did a great job! I didn’t realize how wrapped up I was until I started crying. lol
I have a spoiler question: why did you have the FBI agents get it on? That didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story.
I debated and debated and debated on taking that out. I mean debated BIG TIME. I had them get it on for several reasons: end of the world, they thought they were gonna die. 2nd, those two were the biggest selfish screw ups around and dumb. They were stuck in that room. Another reason was my best friend, a writer and gay, was reading as I wrote it and talked me into it. And to be honest ******SPOILER**** the dirty socks and doritos thing reference to the smell just to add the cringe factor
Again, I did debate on taking it out, it adds nothing to the story, really, except that people do what they do in desprate situations. It’s short enough that people can skip it.
I think the main reason I left it in was because David Summer, an amazing writer friend said to me, it also shows how these guys don’t think about anything before they do it. Hence, the cat.
Hmm, this has been a topic of discussion many times LOL.
You probably weren’t expecting such a long explaination.
In answer to the question about the books length, the page numbers are decieving. The book is 120K words which is actually a long book,
I totally thought I had missed the point of that moment. I actually thought I was reading it wrong and started that scene over to make sure I was reading it right. lol
I figured it was desperation but I had to guess at that. They seem dumb and messy but not desperate. If you get to write a “director’s cut,” I’d like to see it stay but have the desperation more obvious.
Wow – feel totally weird telling the author how to right her book. Hope I didn’t squash toes.
LOL, no squashing toes here! I take advice really well and WELCOME it. Hey, to me, it’s good to know what the readers want. Trust me.
The scene was actually written for you to read, not know what the heck was going on and then BAM, you’re like, NO, they’re what????????? But I promise, any rewrites, you’ll get the desperation!