The Fireman By Joe hill Is A Perfect Book To Binge Read During A Pandemic
There's something a bit surreal about reading about a pandemic while living through a pandemic.
Unlike COVID-19, which causes respiratory issues and some potential organ failure, Dragonscale will, literally, burn you from the inside out. Such is the main theme of Joe Hill's magnificent story, The Fireman. The story centers on Harper Willowes, a school nurse, who finds herself infected with this mysterious ailment that is ravaging the human population; John Rookwood, a.k.a. the Fireman, a British-born former mycologist, who has learned to harness the power of the infection; and a group of survivors, led by Father Storey, (and later his daughter, Carol), who hide from the cremation-crews, in a former summer camp in New Hampshire.
For a pandemic story, there is a marked lack of zombies, blood, and gore (well, there's some blood, but not from the virus), which isn't a bad thing. Hill has imagined a virus that doesn't behave like a normal sickness. The virus, dubbed “Dragonscale”, for the intricate scaled patterns it weaves on its host's skin, causes spontaneous, human combustion.
In a very interesting twist (of which there are so many in this novel), Father Storey's group learns to, not only, control the virus's propensity for igniting its host, but a few of them also discover how to actually manipulate the virus and use it.
Harper is married to a narcissistic bully. When Harper finds herself infected, Jakob tries to make her honor their suicide pact, but she has discovered she is pregnant. She is determined to have the baby, believing that the child is as likely as not to be healthy.
Harper is rescued from her murderous husband and hides with Father Storey's group at Camp Windham. When Father Storey is attacked and severely injured, his daughter, Carol, turns the camp into a fascist regime, with herself sitting as the Supreme Commander. A small group of rebels decide to strike out for a rumored safe haven off the coast of Maine, which was created and operated by Martha Quinn, a 1980s Video Jockey from the cable music channel, MTV.
Unfortunately, for the rebels (Harper and Rookwood among them), leaving Camp Windham isn't, necessarily, an option, and an escape plan is hatched.
Woven throughout the novel is this beautiful hopefulness. Even in the midst of a devastating pandemic and the predictable goal of the healthy to destroy the infected and the infected to survive, there is the Pollyanna Harper, who compels the reader to continue to believe in the goodness of mankind, even when continually confronted with too little good and too much other.
The Fireman is a beautifully written and engaging story – one of those can't-put-it-down novels. Joe Hill has definitely inherited that story-telling gene his parents possess in spades. As a bibliophile, there are more times than I can count that someone mentions a movie, and I say, “I read that book!” The Fireman has already been picked up by Disney to be made into a film (Not sure when that's gonna be). I usually recommend reading the book, first, and then, seeing the movie (if one must). The Fireman was one of those rare novels that makes me want more, and in this case, I am actually excited to see how movie-makers imagine the world in which Dragonscale exists.