Review: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

cover of Survivor Song by Paul TremblaySurvivor Song by Paul Tremblay
William Morrow (July 2020)

320 pages; $25.19 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Beware! Paul Tremblay is not interested in writing stories readers can walk away from unscathed. Survivor Song will leave emotional trenches in your heart long after you’ve finished trying to ugly-cry and read at the same time.

Massachusetts becomes ground zero in a rabies-like outbreak. Readers follow a pregnant woman named Natalie as her life is upended by the quickly spreading disease. In a panic to survive, Natalie reaches out to an old college friend, Dr. Ramola Sherman, who is a pediatrician. Together, these two women navigate a series of obstacles in order to get Natalie and her unborn baby to safety.

In classic Paul Tremblay style, large-scale horror tropes (global pandemic, demon possession, home invasion, missing persons) are funneled down to focus on just a handful of well-developed characters. It’s this kind of concentration and intentionality that Tremblay fans show up for time and time again. As the world around our protagonists gets increasingly violent and chaotic, Tremblay never once allows the lens to take in the full scope or magnitude of the situation. Instead, he keeps our attention honed in on Natalie and Ramala, developing a deepening intimacy with these two characters that weighs heavily on reader’s hearts. The stakes are very high. The suspense and building tension is what turns the pages but it’s the emotional investment that generates the urgency to see Survivor Song through to the end. In other words, there is never a good time to set this one down to catch your breath. No bookmarks necessary.

We’ve been here before with Tremblay. This is what he does. Each one of his stories is a unique brand of horrors that are frighteningly plausible; hitting so close to home. There’s no way Paul Tremblay could have ever known that Survivor Song would find its readers struggling amidst our own pandemic crisis. So many details in this book are shockingly prophetic. I believe this speaks to Tremblay’s quest to deliver horror that is, first and foremost, authentic and realistic. So much so, he wrote a book that almost perfectly mirrors our current situation.

Some might say the timing of the two is just a freak accident, and I would agree; Tremblay had no idea Covid-19 was soon to make history. But I would also offer my opinion that Tremblay’s mind is busy creating relevant stories that appeal to our humanity, stir up empathy, and light our imaginations on fire. 

Survivor Song is a gift to readers right here, right now.

Leave a Reply