The Thread: Lawrence Wright’s 'The End of October'

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Medical worker in protective gear at coronavirus testing site
A medical worker stands in protective garments behind caution tape at a drive-through testing site for the coronavirus in a parking lot at Gillette Stadium on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. MPR News host Kerri Miller previews one of her most anticipated reads for spring and summer 2020: a soon-to-be-published novel about a pandemic.
Steven Senne | AP Photo file

In recent weeks, we’ve explored island-inspired fiction and spy novels. As we continue thinking about fiction to enjoy in a time of social distancing, I’ll be bringing you my most anticipated spring and summer reads.

Everyone is already talking about Lawrence Wright’s pandemic novel, “The End of October,” which will be published in late April. Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of — among many other terrific books — the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower.”

Even if we weren’t in the midst of the new coronavirus pandemic, we’d be paying attention to this novel. These days, it reads like anything but fiction.

Here’s the setup: World Health Organization biologist Dr. Henry Parsons arrives at a camp in Sumatra where more than 40 people have died from a hemorrhagic fever. In the hot zone, he discovers three doctors among the dead and half-finished notes from a scientist who has quickly recognized how lethal the disease is.

However, it’s already too late. By the time Parsons has discovered the so-called “Patient Zero,” the disease is racing into the Middle East and will soon spread across the globe and into the United States.

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a reading experience quite like this one. I was immersed in the fictional drama of virus-hunting scientists, sluggish governments and a world in lockdown as I watched the death toll from the novel coronavirus accelerate. The experience was both uncanny and disturbing.

It was also frightening to see how prescient Wright is in his novel about the mistakes and the miscalculations that gave his fictional virus such a deadly head start.

My Thread-most-anticipated read for spring and summer this week is Lawrence Wright’s “The End of October.” Listen for our interview in late April.

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