Conformity and Mindlessness; Foreigners sin Morals. The Juxtaposition of Political Fears in “The Strain.”

Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain is a complex and interweaving multi-narrative story centered in 21st century New York City during the inception of what promises to be a worldwide pandemic. This pandemic is supernatural in variety. Usually with books like this, the perpetrator is turning people into some kind of monster, such as a vampire or a zombie, but in this book the perpetrator is turning people into both.


Traditionally, these two kinds of monsters are rooted in political fears. Often, when a democratic president is in office, zombie movies become very popular because they represent what the left wing fears most: conformity and mindlessness. At the time that this book was written, the United States had not only elected a democratic president but also our first African American president, a massive milestone in the nation’s history.


What’s interesting about this book is that it also utilizes the fears of the opposing political party via the use of vampires, which represents what republicans fear most: foreign entities with no moral code. Del Toro and Hogan’s choice to include this duality of fear in this book is interesting because it provides something for everyone to fear both on a conscious and subconscious level.


The book follows multiple narratives, but the main narrative is that of a doctor named Ephraim Goodweather who, at the start of the novel, is losing a custody battle for his son. He is called in to investigate an airplane at the JFK airport which had an uneventful landing but mysteriously shut down on the taxiway and could not be contacted from outside. He and his partner are granted entrance and what they find inside are many dead bodies and four living.


The four alive are initially free of symptoms but taken to a hospital anyway. One of the four is a lawyer and she convinces the rest that there is no reason for any of them to be in the hospital so all of them leave except for one, the co-pilot of the plane. The novel then follows their narratives as they each develop more symptoms, particularly debilitating headaches and sore throats that simply cannot be soothed. We begin to learn that these people have vampiric tendencies when one of the survivors, a rockstar, is involved in a sexual tryst in which he takes a hickey too far. The next survivor drinks the blood from his two saint bernards.


The story takes off very rapidly, jumping from narrative to narrative, introducing new characters regularly and returning to old ones often. It is very slowly revealed through a key player named Abraham Setrakian that this is all the work of a man named Sardu and these creatures are of a very old kind called strigoi. He knows how to defeat them but the mainstream thought is, of course, highly preventative, so Ephraim and his partner must first be convinced and then help Abraham along the way.


This book was very tied to politics which I found interesting. On the surface it is simply about a doctor who gets involved in something that he doesn’t understand but truly it is about how political our world is. At the beginning of the book, Ephraim is a very respected and high ranking doctor in the CDC but as soon as he begins to submit ideas that the CDC disagrees with his authority is called into question and when he presses these ideas the CDC goes as far as making him a fugitive of the law. The book doesn’t directly state this, but it would seem that one of the main themes in the book is that our culture is so afraid of being wrong that we focus all of our authoritative power on blocking any unfamiliar ideas and forget to actually explore them, regardless of how scary they may be.


After Ephraim is stripped of his title at the CDC and made a fugitive, his tertiary plot line becomes fighting the politics of medicine, which holds a heavy irony because many people don’t assume that a doctor would have to fight to save his patients. This book works so well because there is simply so much going on. Ephraim himself is racing to stop hordes of zombie vampires while also trying to maintain his relationship with his son and evade the law. All of this is coupled with the individual plot lines of numerous other characters to create a book that simply doesn’t have time to be boring.


In my opinion, the kind of audience who would enjoy this book must enjoy horror novels and, to some degree, mystery novels as well. There is a lot of mystery and a lot of questioning in this novel and most of the questions don’t get answered until the very end. Anyone who reads this book must be able to deal with a sense of dissatisfaction as well because this novel is not lacking for moments of perfectly executed frustration and weariness. Finally, this book is intended for gore fans as there are many graphic descriptions of many gruesome deaths within its pages.


The Strain

Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

585 pages. Published by HarperCollins. USA $9.99.

The Strain

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