The Seneca Scourge, written by Carrie Rubin, is a medical thriller that was a pleasure to read.
I won’t give too much of a synopsis of the book because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s about a physician named Sidney McKnight, who is battling a deadly strain of influenza and joins forces with a mysterious virologist, Dr. Casper Jones. And that’s about as much as I should say because there’s a really interesting idea that unfolds in the novel, an idea I found surprising and intriguing.
Two significant events in my life have helped inform my experience with disease. The first was reading the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond, in which he answers some big questions like why different cultures have developed more quickly or more slowly than others, how food production leads to specialization, and how domesticating animals and living in close proximity to livestock have led to immunity to some deadly diseases (of course many people had to die first, but those who were left were a heartier stock of human). Diamond’s book helped answer a lot of questions I had about the role of disease in shaping historical events worldwide.
The second event was contracting H1N1 in 2009. It was one of the scariest times in my life and I’ll post about it another day.
Rubin does a fantastic job of capturing the effects of an influenza strain that attacks the respiratory system, that helpless feeling of drowning in your own lungs and the moments of panic, the fever, the pain. She does a great job describing this from the perspective of a front-line doctor who is always on the verge of being overwhelmed. One can’t help but think of the front-line workers in Liberia battling the Ebola virus.
The more technical aspects of the illness are described in layman’s terms (did I mention Rubin is physician?) so even someone as scientifically simple as me could understand and appreciate them. I never felt lost and was even able to learn a little about some different strains of influenza.
Sidney McKnight is a well drawn character–compassionate, hard working, doubtful of her own abilities, and funny. The story is fun to read (in a dark sort of way) with a clever idea executed nicely. The one aspect I really enjoyed is that nothing was overblown, melodramatic, verbose, or pretentious. She tells the story with elegance and simplicity. This is a remarkable feat and all the more so considering this is Rubin’s first novel.
I would like to call for a series, or at least another book set in the world of Sidney McKnight and Casper Jones, as they’re definitely people I’d like to get to know more. Well done, Carrie Rubin.
Rubin also has a great blog: The Write Transition.