The Plague

The Plague

by Kevin Chong

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Overview

At first it's the dead rats. They start dying in cataclysmic numbers, followed by other city creatures. Then people begin experiencing flu-like symptoms as well as swellings in their lymph nodes. The citizenry reacts in disbelief when the diagnosis comes in and later, when a quarantine is imposed on the increasingly terrified city.







Inspired by Albert Camus’ classic 1947 novel, Kevin Chong’s The Plague follows Dr. Bernard Rieux’s attempts to fight the treatment-resistant disease and find meaning in suffering. His efforts are aided by Megan Tso, an American writer who is trapped in the city while on a book tour, and Raymond Siddhu, a city hall reporter at a daily newspaper on its last legs from the latest round of job cuts.







Told with dark humor and an eye trained on the frailties of human behavior, Chong’s novel explores themes in keeping with Camus’ original vision—heroism in the face of futility, the psychological strain of quarantine—but fraught with the political and cultural anxieties of our times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781551527185
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press, Limited
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,239,510
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Kevin Chong is the author of six books, including the memoir My Year of the Racehorse and the novels Beauty Plus Pity and Baroque-a-Nova. His work has been published in Canada, the US, France, Australia, and Macedonia, and has been shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Fiction Prize and a National Magazine Award. He teaches at the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program and The Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University.

Read an Excerpt

Part Two







6.



Now comes an intermediate period in our story, which covers the week that the quarantine was imposed. Each section of this narrative spans a different stage in the city, each signalling a refraction in the collective mood. As our story continues, the sections will extend to larger periods—when the days began to blur together. Our recollections are most imprecise in this period.







The first deaths set off, along with reports of the “inconclusive” nature of the illness, what could only be a rehearsal of panic. It was the reaction of people who had been drilled to deal with emergencies, who had watched them on their screens and been on airplanes with flight attendants inflatable rings around their necks. Children were pulled from school, where they might become infected, but taken instead to the playground and ice rinks. Some adults took a few days off from work, content to ride out the “flu.” Very few of them left town. It was imperative for anxiety to be cloaked as an adventure. A local repertory cinema scheduled an impromptu selection of apocalyptic films, which ranged from Vincent Price’s Last Man on Earth to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, from camp to comedy. The audience included Romeo Parsons, who made a point of looking confident and appearing in public every night that week. No one would characterize this period as “fun,” but there was a heightened feeling in every Vancouverites’ action. A trip to the store to buy milk felt eventful. People said goodbye with tongue-in-cheek final gestures: “This may be the last time we see each other.” And then they smooched like movie stars.







The Coastal Health Authority released information about hand-washing and warnings to stay away from rodents and urban wildlife, but only a few people knew of someone affected by the illness. The calamity was on their radars as something they were fortunate to avoid. The disease’s absurd-sounding name, when you think of it, remained outside their spheres of concern. Until the quarantine, this threat only made people more outgoing. The shopping malls saw more business than usual. The bars were filled with people who spoke about how they wished they could still smoke inside. Singles eyed each other with deeper lust, knowing that yet another avenue existed for causing one another harm. On their profile photos, they posted pictures of themselves wearing surgical masks. Others, hoping to look medieval, wore black cowls, but instead resembled nerdy sorcerers.







It’s something that’s happening downtown, Vancouverites said during a string of drug deaths from a recent period that already felt bygone. They did it to themselves. Okay, they didn’t start from the best places, but ... Or when homicides reached new highs in the city, murdering one another in drive-by shootings at late-night noodle houses, they told each other that It’s just gang members defending their turf. They’re so professional that hardly anyone innocent ever gets killed. Don’t deal drugs and you’re safe. And in this case, they ascribed blame to those who fell ill and drew walls around the casualties in order to protect our senses of safety.







In her first week in Vancouver, Megan Tso still considered herself a short-term visitor. Her second engagement, the mysterious but lucrative consulting contract mentioned in the first section of this chronicle, had been delayed. An intermediary for the wealthy man who paid for her services apologized for the need to reschedule. In addition to compensating her for her extra days, this executive assistant offered to upgrade her accommodations. With this offer, Tso moved into a room with a kitchenette at the same hotel.







Her extended stopover in Vancouver, during a public health crisis, was an opportunity for reflection. Her layover happened for a reason. She would get over jet lag here. She would breathe clean air and enjoy the relative underpopulation of Canada.







In the week that followed, she did the following: She returned her stolen luggage to the old woman; her son accepted the bag, a man with the face and stature of an Egyptian pharaoh, who closed the door before she could offer the amusing explanation and apology that she’d planned in the taxi. (The airline delivered her luggage the same day.) She walked the entire length of the Sea Wall twice. More and more people were wearing face masks in public. She visited the library and read Thucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War for hour-long stretches before returning it to its spot on the shelf. She couldn’t help but notice how many people were coughing in the library, coughing into their hands and then typing in their queries at the library internet terminals. Afterward, she went to the drug store and bought hand sanitizer. She checked in on Janice Grossman.







Grossman invited her to ride on her city tour. Tso initially declined her invitation, preferring instead to read at the library. When she discovered Thucydides missing from his regular place, she changed her mind and headed toward the tour’s starting point at Canada Place. Grossman pulled up driving the converted school bus, wearing a microphone strapped around her face.







There were about a dozen people waiting with Tso. A couple of men with their wives were wearing chambray shirts and khaki shorts, and seemed obviously American. There were Chinese tourists, and German visitors, too. Grossman took their fares. Most of them spread out on the bus.







“Good afternoon, brave visitors of Vancouver,” Grossman told the sparsely filled bus as it left the curb. Her elocution became brighter, gaining intensity mid-sentence, her words delivered as though she recited them from sheet music. “Thank you for making sure I still have gainful employment. It’s been a little quiet the past week.” She stopped at a light and peered back. “Was it because you couldn’t get a refund? Or are any of you in town for the epidemic?”







There was an anxious pause. The European and Chinese tourists, who seemed more aligned to Tso in demeanor, seemed befuddled. “We’re here for an Alaska cruise,” one of the silver-haired Americans said. She liked him more. “We’re more afraid of guns than the flu.” Probably from California.







“Welcome to my hometown, the only city I’ve lived in, and I can tell you it’s changed a lot. A mystique has developed around the city—one that might be visible to locals, who like to think we live in best or worst in the city in the world. Has anyone heard any of these myths?” She did not wait for a reply. “Let me dispel some of them. The first is that everyone here is rich. It’s true that everyone who owns land here, for instance, is a millionaire on paper. There are truly rich people, of course. We also have millionaires who line up at the food bank. We have heiresses to million-dollar fortunes driving tour buses. The second myth is that Vancouverites are notoriously unfriendly. It’s not true, but the city is clique-y. I think of it as a video game where you need to level up by acquiring high-user ratings. When it comes to social equity, inequality is high.”







Her rambling digressions exhausted the tourists, whose attention returned to their copies of Lonely Planet. “You may notice the stops on the itinerary. We will visit everyone of those at the appointed times, but I may stop at a couple of other private locations.”







They stopped for thirty minutes at that shopping street, the Vancouver version of Rodeo Drive. New tourists boarded there, including a young woman who sat next to her at the front of the bus and wouldn’t stop coughing into her phone, in which she was texting in Japanese. The bus started headed down another busy street toward the park. Grossman directed tourists to a hotel in the distance. “Howard Hughes spent six months in the Penthouse suite here in 1972 as he evaded the IRS,” she told the audience. “It will now cost you $2000 a night to stay there.” The Americans took snapshots of this unremarkable Westin.







Tso was looking out the window when the Japanese woman coughed again. As she rose Tso caught a glimpse of the bloody Kleenex she clutched in her hand. (If Tso’s observation is correct, this would be one of the earliest indications that the infection had progressed to its pneumonic form. This would have preceded the first officially documented case by at least three days.) The woman approached the front of the bus at a red light. She whispered in Grossman’s ear, but her headset broadcast the woman’s brief statement: “I believe I have it.” Grossman turned off the mike. The bus lurched into the intersection.







She switched on her mike. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, and those of you are both and neither, we will not be going to Stanley Park, as I promised. Not yet. Instead we will be embarking on the off-the-menu part of our tour,” she said. “Our first stop is the West End, where you’ll find many bike-rental shops, a fine perogie place, and, oh look, the answer to your picture-framing needs. Famous residents include that dipsomaniac novelist Malcolm Lowry. Growing up on the east side, I thought everyone who led an interesting life in Vancouver—and there weren’t many—lived in these streets. I would take the bus down here as a teenager, look at comic books on Granville Street and wander these residential streets, hoping someone from one of these buildings would run out onto the street and kidnap me into their cosmopolitan life.”







The Japanese woman was visibly sweating. She shivered and repeated the same phrase in a baby voice. Tso tried to talk to her, but the woman waved her off. The bus turned down Nelson Street. “How many of you are familiar with Errol Flynn?” Grossman asked. A few of the riders, including the Americans, raised their hands. “The New Zealand-born actor, most famous for Robin Hood, died in this neighbourhood, three blocks over, in October 1959. At the time, he was in town to conclude the sale of his beloved luxury yacht. Flynn was fifty years old, broke and bloated. He was dating a sixteen-year-old starlet, Beverly Aadland. Old Errol loved it in Vancouver. He wasn’t washed up here. So he stayed several days longer than he planned. On his way to airport, he started feeling unwell. His host rushed him to the home of a doctor friend, who administered a shot of morphine. That was all Flynn needed to feel better. He was in a good enough mood to party. The doctor called a few friends over and the guest of honour dusted off a few of his favourite stories. The Hollywood tales, and the booze, kept flowing for two hours. Then Old Errol took a lie-down. His underage companion went to check in on his found him dead.”







Grossman concluded this story as they entered the Emergency Room lot. She took a wide turn in the driveway and blocked an ambulance. The hospital, with its arched Edwardian windows and tin roof, seemed to contain the city’s reserve of red brick. (It was one of only a few anomalous throwbacks in this city of steel and glass condo towers that were built to melt into one another. In Vancouver, everyone wanted a view, but no one wanted to live anyplace worth looking at.) “Well, I hope I haven’t soured you on our fine healthcare system in the city and country. Here we are in the St. Paul’s Hospital where you’ll be free to disembark and look around. The next bus will only be six blocks from here. Please direct all comments and suggestions to our website or office number. Have a great day.”







Grossman draped the Japanese tourist’s arm over her shoulder and led her off the bus. People filed out after them. The Asians were spooked, the Europeans bemused. The Americans tried to offer cash tips. Tso stood by the opened bus door, watching as the Japanese passenger stopped and turned back.







“She wants her purse,” Grossman told her.







Tso found the purse on her seat. As she stepped out, an ambulance driver told her to move her vehicle. She offered to check in this woman so Grossman could move her bus. “You don’t want to lose your job,” she told her. “I’ll handle it.” Grossman’s reaction—a slight recoiling—suggested that she didn’t often get much assistance. Being offered help felt like another request.







In the waiting room, people took inventory of one another as they coughed and shivered in their chairs along a corridor. Some were doubled over; others wore blankets. She found a seat for the woman and tried to check her in using the information in the passport that she found in her purse. She had to fill out her information on a clipboard.







“How are you related to this woman?” the nurse asked from behind a partitioned booth.







“I don’t ... I’m not. I met her on the tour bus. We’re tourists.”







“I see. And you were saying she was feeling uncomfortable?”







Tso hesitated. Should she mention seeing this woman coughing blood? What if she had just imagined it? She no longer trusted her memory. What she said would affect this woman’s treatment. What if she withheld the detail—what would happen then? Finally, she told the nurse what she saw. The clatter of the nurse’s data entry slowed.







“It was just what I thought I saw,” Tso said.







“That’s all you need to tell us. The doctors will confirm your observation.”







Tso returned to the Japanese woman slumped in her seat. “Yuko?” she said, repeating the name on the passport. The woman looked up. Tso told her that she would be getting help. Did she understand? She nodded. How was she feeling? She nodded again. Did she need anything? She made a drinking gesture with her hand. Then she said, “Water.”







At the vending machine she dug through her collection of Canadian coins. She thought she had enough. How lucky she was not to be sick in a foreign country. Like Yuko. Or Errol Flynn. People imagine the ideal death to be in your own bed. For her, a country in which she was a passport-holder would do. The doctor who treated an early SARS patient, a seafood salesmen, travelled from Guangdong to Hong Kong to attend a wedding in 2003. To pass he would have had to gone through the Communist guards who kept Mainland Chinese from Hong Kong. The former British colony was under its own sequester.







The first press report about SARS was a denial. Everyone knew better and began to stockpile vinegar, a traditional remedy for the disease. They cleaned their hands in vinegar, wiped bus seats with it. The doctor was aware that the case of flu he had seen were atypical. Over three hundred people had become ill; five of them had died. But he had taken precautions and deemed himself safe to travel. He took a ninth-floor room in the Metropole Hotel in Kowloon. The next day he felt too ill to attend the wedding, but well enough to walk to a nearby hospital. When he was admitted, he told hospital to lock him up. No one at Kwong Wah hospital knew what they were dealing. A month later, the doctor had died and eighty-seven medical staff members and students had fallen ill.







When Tso turned back, the Japanese woman was no longer in her seat. Only her purse remained. She was being wheeled down a hall by nurses in hazmat suits. The hall stretched further down in Tso’s head than in reality. Tso was thinking of the woman’s reaction to not having a purse. She thought how dying people reach for their wallets when they wake. They’re trained to think of every process, even the biological ones, as a transaction. Tso grabbed the purse and called out to them. Then she started to run. One of the nurses turned back.







“You really don’t want to come with me,” she told her, taking the bag. She was wearing a face mask but her eyes were smiling. “Once you’re in, you can’t turn back.”







7.







Raymond Siddhu needed the walk home from the bus stop to clear the exhaust fumes from his lungs. There was no sidewalk where they lived, so he would step into the outer lip of a grassy ditch whenever a car passed by. A neighbour once called the cops when he saw him walking home. The neighbour was in the right. Being a pedestrian qualified as suspicious activity here. The physical aloofness of suburban life—different from the more social standoffishness seen within the city limits—would keep his family safe, so long as they avoided the mall and cleaned their hands after paying at the drive-thru window.







When he came through the door, his boys tottered toward him, each holding out their hands as though they were on a highwire. They started walking only two weeks earlier, and he saw their steps growing more steadily with each new day.







Perhaps the sight of their father grimacing at the sight of them would have no effect on their psyches. They would not remember the days when Daddy pried them off with a closed umbrella until he was back from the sink with newly scrubbed hands. He returned, eyes smiling, grabbing each of them under his arm and spinning around until they squealed and giggled.







“Put them down,” Uma Siddhu said. She was wearing an apron and a high-school era sweatshirt. “Time to eat.”







“You should have started without me.”







“Don’t tell me what to do.”







“You know you get angry when you’re hungry.”







“And you know you are not allowed to say what you think.”







So far, there had been no reports of the disease outside the city’s downtown core. Siddhu’s wife suggested that he take a leave. “You are being an alarmist,” he accused his wife, who placed their dinner on the messy table where their boys had already eaten.







“What are you, then?” she asked back.







“Being rational.”







She scoffed at him. She was the even-tempered one in their marriage, the one who found compromise. He was the impulse shopper grabbing fistfuls of chocolate bars at the checkout counter. “There are no rationalists in these situations,” she told him. “There are those who let it happened to them and the alarmists. Pick a side.”







They watched the boys in the living room. They ambled around looking for something to topple. Before too long, they would find each other. They would fight over a box. Tears would follow. They should eat before they needed to reheat their meals again.







“This tastes good,” he told her. He didn’t even know what he was eating. It was brown—it had been pressure-cooked—and served on rice. Her parents, who lived on the other side of the duplex, were in Asia, so they relished their ability to eat quick meals.







He didn’t want to make her angry. He did not want to tell her that she had spent the day at the hospital speaking to health officials, who claimed to be waiting for results, and doctors. Or that he was in a hospital with people who didn’t cough into their elbows. She had a point about safety. He couldn’t take chances. That’s why he sold his motorcycle and stopped playing rec hockey after he broke his ankle.







And he wanted to have sex with her that night, even if he needed to put down the boys on his own (so she could relax) and take a shower. He listened to himself chew, to their plateware on the table.







“You know this is a great story,” he said. “It will be the only chance I will get in my career to write one.”







He could hear one boy creak, a prelude to angry sobs of a wish unheeded. The other one was cackling wickedly. Siddhu hadn’t seen his own younger brothers since the summer.







“If you took on the metro beat, you could write about gang warfare. You could be first on the scene of every drive-by execution. We might get threatening phone calls at night. You might even get killed, but you wouldn’t bring disease into this house,” she suggested. “Would that be exciting enough for you?”







“It’s not about excitement,” Siddhu told her. Correction: It was only partially about that thrill. In his mind, he was carrying out a promise he’d made to himself. The newspaper would die, but not because of him. He was a self-appointed captain aboard a sinking ship.







This argument would not go over well. He tried to change the discussion. He asked her about the boys’ music class. The range of their conversations had narrowed to two sharp points since the boys were born.







She brought out her smartphone. He decided not to repeat his question.







“Let that website cover the story,” she told her. “They’ve beaten you so far.”







It was true that GSSP had broke the news about the first fatalities. They had been the first to comment on the delays between setbacks in infection management and reports from the Health Authority. On one level, Siddhu had been glad someone had reported the story. And yet he was stunned. Up until then, GSSP’s reporting had been inept, even with its click-generated wealth. Until recently, they had only one reporter: the website owner, Elliot Horne-Bough, whom everyone referred to as Hornblow. He dressed in skinny neckties and took photos using a Polaroid camera. How could he be losing stories to him? And why does he want to hire me? Meanwhile, Siddhu was interviewing city councillors about the restricted access to disease flashpoints. In these areas, signage had been erected advising only local traffic to enter. Other notices strongly advised wearing face masks.







He had gotten home late after a mid-afternoon special council meeting ended in a fight. A councillor from Romeo Parsons’ party attacked the mayor for his inability to provide better temporary housing and showering stations in economically disadvantaged parts of the city. It represented Parsons’ first broken promise in his initial month as mayor, the councillor told him. He watched Parsons’ face. It tightened into something rigid and clenched, before loosening back into appealing handsomeness.







The councillor, a twenty-nine-year-old advocate for sex workers, had been personally recruited by Parsons. When the mayor deflected her earnest pleas, she rose from her seat in the cherry-panelled council chambers. She was in the far end of the room from the mayor and as she rushed toward him another female councillor, a Parsons loyalist from the same party, took her by the arm. The first councillor struck the other one with an open fist. She then left the council chambers.







Siddhu offered to give the boys a bath while his wife watched Netflix. He decided against washing their hair, to avoid tears. He let them play with a plastic tea set. He dried and dressed them each. He flashed his yo-yo and both boys pulled themselves up against the crib railing. He was working on a more intermediate level trick: the Split the Atom. It started out like a Brain Twister, but involved another step. The boys lost interest as he worked on the pushing motion. He won them back with his old standbys until they had slumped back into their cribs. Then he waited at the door until they cried themselves to sleep.







In the weeks that ensued he would summon each of these moments to savour like heirlooms from a lost world.







His wife waited for him under the covers without her clothes on. As he stripped down, she held up a corner of the duvet for him like an open car door. He felt the chill of the air on his chest. He rolled toward her in bed. They reached for each other, pulling all the compulsory levers. There was no time to tease or upgrade from the basic package. They felt grateful for the certainty of their flesh. A cry would force them to freeze; a longer wail would shut things down. Hurry, hurry. Success, success.







He lay there afterward with only the light of the hall outside. The room took on a grainy quality. He slept poorly. Everyone was still asleep. He packed his lunch. When he got on the bus, he found a seat. He normally had to stand. On the SkyTrain entering the city, he was one of two people in his car. From the station, he stepped outside and the sun had broken. The office buildings glinted in the damp air with the sheen of plastic wrap.







It had taken a potential health crisis for the mood in the office to brighten. People moved quickly. No one here thought that this work would gain new subscriptions, or earn them kudos. Instead, it seemed like a rewarding diversion. Like Siddhu, they saw an opportunity for noble career deaths.







At the retirement party of his mentor, the thirty-year veteran, a Chicago-born wife of a draft dodger, took him aside and asked him to start sending out his resume. “I’m not worried about old goats like me,” she told him. “And I don’t know the newbies well enough to give a shit. But I’m worried about you. You’ve been here for all of the bad years and none of the good ones. The paper looks like it will die by the end of the work week, but it’s going to keep sputtering for a few more years. I’m worried, by then, you will be too long in the tooth to be employable. Even worse than that, I’m concerned that it’ll make you a good family man, at the expense of your work. They say no one dies wishing they worked more. Absolute bullshit. Maybe if you're selling hot dogs. Not so much when your job is looking at the world.”







Siddhu remembered her talk verbatim. She had never said that much in their entire working relationship.







He took his place at her desk, and started her old computer. In his inbox was a notice from the city’s communications director about a press conference. Many believed it related to the fight. He took his place in the front row next to Horne-Bough.







“It’s definitely about the fight,” Horne-Bough said in a stage whisper. He held his Polaroid camera with both hands. “The mayor’s ego had been clipped by the radical wing of his party. They’re going to lift the restrictions on the area around the Annex. Freedom is given to everyone in this city, or no one.”







“Maybe you should be giving the press conference,” Siddhu said, through glassy laughter. He had a feeling that the mayor would repeat those same sentiments. “Who’s your source?”







“I’ll answer you, if you answer my own question. Where does one get the best craft grolsch in the downtown area?”







“Are you counting Strathcona?” Siddhu asked. He’d occasional post about breweries for the paper’s food and drink blog. Horne-Bough had been doing his research.







“Anywhere within a fifteen-minute cab ride.”







“As you know, I’ve been trying to get you to our offices for two weeks,” Horne-Bough said after Siddhu’s detailed and comprehensive ranking of breweries. “Maybe you’re afraid of me. I don’t take it personally. Then I thought a more informal venue might help. What if I were to invite you for one of those grolschs tonight?”







Romeo Parsons bounded in front of the podium. Siddhu noticed that he had a habit of mouthing certain phrases, the money lines of his prepared remarks, before he spoke. He wore a blue tie that matched the curtains behind him. Those curtains were a lighter tint of blue from the one used by the previous mayor. The colour change had been a recommendation from a branding firm—at a cost of $12,000. “They really bring out his eyes,” the city hall reporter from a local radio station snickered. It was the first time that Siddhu had heard an unkind remark uttered about the mayor.







Parsons began with an apology for the fight in City Hall. “These are tense times, ones that lead to unnecessary panic and finger-pointing,” he said. “We’ve seen nothing like this in our city since the Spanish Influenza at the end of the First World War.” The city councilor who attacked him had left the caucus. (Later that day, she announced she was running as an independent.) What made him an electrifying speaker was a modest amount of eloquence refracted through a joyfulness. Even now he smiled. Others might get shot down as a hayseed. But Parsons was a Rhodes scholar; he sat on the board of directors of the Art Institute of Chicago. The rest of his remarks fell in line with Horne-Bough’s prediction. Parsons added that he regretted the advice he’d been given from the Coastal Health Authority about the neighbourhood restrictions. “What happened was that we needed to balance health safety with our concerns about our city’s most marginalized people. We failed in this regard. We have heard stories about harassment from our most desperate people. We have further demonized our most vulnerable people. Meanwhile, rates of infection haven’t decreased. The roadblocks have caused traffic congestion.” New measures would be announced soon, taking the place of the old ones. “These new measures will be fairly applied to all. Until then, we all must proceed carefully. We don’t know the true extent of this health situation.”







The question period followed. Most of these queries were couched in praise about the mayor’s demeanor. There was still an aura about him, and the press still wanted him to succeed. Like a rising tide, their own work as political reporters had been lifted by his lofty profile. Voter turnout had risen by a quarter because of his presence. People talked about residential zoning and garbage collection with the same depth and feeling as they could about the all-time greatest hockey players. Relatives and friends of reporters inquired about their work with interest.







To his credit, it was only Horne-Bough who asked a question that unnerved the mayor. “According to some accounts, twenty-nine people have died. When will we know this is a crisis?” he asked.







“I don’t think it’s twenty-nine,” he stammered. “That’s not confirmed.” The rest of the mayor’s mumbled response could not be stitched into a coherent reply.







As the mayor finished the conference, he approached Horne-Bough and Siddhu, who had stood by the exit. “I hope you don’t mind some tough questions,” Horne-Bough said.







The mayor smirked. “I’m still standing.”







“Care to be in a Polaroid with a colleague?” he asked. “It’s for my private collection.”







“Anything involving Raymond here is okay,” the Mayor insisted. He put one arm around Siddhu. The mayor smelled like he had been out all day. It wasn’t a bad odor. He gave off the smell of someone who’d spent the afternoon hiking through a rainforest path. He held the same camera-ready smile even as Horne-Bough tried his shot from various angles, finally holding the Polaroid over his head when the photo was taken.







Later, at a nearby gastropub, Horne-Bough confessed that he was trying to see how long the Mayor could hold his expression. The Polaroid caught only the tops of their heads. Each of them had the brewery’s tasting flights arranged in front of them on wooden trays. Horne-Bough seemed taken aback by the set-up—it looked like a science project. “I am more of a soju drinker,” he confessed.







Horne-Bough looked to be in his mid-twenties. He came from a wealthy Toronto family and had arrived in the city only two years earlier. Although he was privileged, he claimed that his money was largely his own. Four years earlier, he’d placed most of a small inheritance into the hands of some boarding school friends who’d launched an app that was later sold for a nine-figure sum. He had little experience in news outside of a CBC internship when he graduated from high school. Before he came to Vancouver, he was working at a used bookstore. “I don’t do well if I don’t have something to do,” he said. “Or something in my hands.”







“You should work with wood,” Siddhu suggested.







“Except that I’m so absent-minded, I’d lose a finger.”







“Better yet,” he said, palming the yo-yo, “you should get one of these.”







He let the yo-yo slide out between their two stools at the bar.







“I love how it whirs,” Horne-Bough said, his eyes followed the yo-yo. “That sound is wonderful.”







Like the mayor, this spindly young entrepreneur was fascinating. Horne-Bough was not the stingy kind of rich person. Nor was he oblivious to cash. He saw money not as lifeblood, but like points acquired in a video game. “Contrary to what you newsmen think I want to pay for content,” Horne-Bough told him. “Maybe not a unionized shop, but wages and benefits and options.” His model was not just click-driven, but also used a subscription/patronage model from individual subscribers and institutions. His initial staff included a couple of Siddhu’s ex-colleagues, like a formerly fresh-faced investigative reporter who’d been laid off before he could qualify for a buyout. Another staffer was a journalism grad who used to work as the mayor’s executive assistant and knew where he did his dry cleaning. “The city has grown enormously in the past decade in terms of wealth. There are people will...

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The Plague 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
The Plague by Kevin Chong is a recommended modern adaptation of Albert Camus's original 1947 classic novel. The Plague is written as a historical account looking back to the year 201- when the plague occurred. The setting is moved from the original French village or Oran to present day Vancouver where the unnamed, omniscient narrator tells the story and follows three characters. After the rats and subsequent other wild animals who live in modern cities started dying in alarming numbers, then people began to experience flu-like symptoms and swelling in their lymph nodes. The sick are clearly infected with Yersinia pestis, or the plague, and the city is immediately placed under quarantine. Dr. Bernard Rieux is trap in the city while his wife is off receiving alternate treatment for her cancer. He is trying to find a way to redress the treatment-resistant disease, while he is alternately seeking to find meaning in suffering. Megan Tso is an American writer who is trapped in the city while on a book tour. She is trying to hide from an ex while assisting Dr. Rieux. Raymond Siddhu, who is married and the father of twins, is a reporter who is trapped in the city due to the quarantine. Chong explores the same themes as the original novel, including the nature of destiny and the human condition, the frailties of human behavior, the psychological strain of being under quarantine, and the bravery required in the face of futility. He also places the novel in the present day by addressing many current political and cultural anxieties. His characters are well-developed and compelling. Chong does an incredible job developing his characters and making them real individuals facing a stressful crisis. The plot however, when it should be full of nerve-racking tension and anxiety because, duh, it's the plague in a major city, is actually too slow moving and, well, a bit dull. As a character study and used as a comparison to Camus's novel, it is worthwhile to read; as a novel though about the plague hitting Vancouver, the pace of the actual story is rather weary. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press.