by Diana Richmond
Quantum Discovery

"Don was curious to see what would become of the world, even though he occupied only a tiny cell within it."

As Covid intensifies in March of 2020, a collection of individuals in this pandemic novel are swept up in the isolation and fear brought on by the virus. The experiences of caregivers, friends, and families through fevers, testing, and quarantines are startlingly unique but also universal in some aspects. Richmond tells the stories of individuals but captures the confusion and uncertainty that left no one untouched from March to January of 2021. Each character, family, and relationship struggles to make sense of the unfolding catastrophe. To support the fictional stories, Richmond also includes vignettes from history and literature that serve as a chorus of insight about living and loving through difficult times. Each chapter covers a month in the pandemic and captures the progression of the societal fallout from the virus.

These stories of ordinary people navigating the pandemic offer a full range of responses from everyday anxieties to worst-case outcomes. The book reflects a world all know and have lived through and seeks to explore and bear witness to the defining event of 2020. Many of the characters are directly connected to an assisted living facility called The Evergreen. The timeline moves smoothly from month to month, but the people shift erratically from page to page. Richmond seems to flick a switch, lighting up different rooms and placing characters in a spotlight that suddenly goes dark as the beam sweeps over to another space and story. The structure works well for covering a variety of responses and experiences to the pandemic as readers peek into the lives of individuals at work and home.

Many writers through the years have imagined a future world overcome with mysterious viruses and have written apocalyptic visions of life ruined by disease. These stories have risen out of pure imagination and science fiction wonder. But now that the world is living through the crisis of mutating Covid, what was once considered dystopian fiction is now realistic fiction. More and more writers are beginning to reflect on the impact of the pandemic and writing stories like this one that serve as a vital examination of ordinary lives upended by Covid. This crisis is a conduit to the human experience, a channel through which joys and sorrows flow freely.

Richmond's contribution to the emerging pandemic novel is moving in its authenticity and immediacy. Written in real-time with an eye to the headlines and breaking news of the day, the author's book works hard to capture the daily struggle and devastating loss wrought by the pandemic. Lives are altered, fissures are widened, and stressors become unfathomable. Relationships are tested, and some are brought to the brink. However, hope hovers ever so quietly in the background, and the strength of the human spirit is evident. The adaptability and miracle of individuals finding their way as normal life slowly falls apart is rich territory for character studies which Richmond delivers with grace and light. Her aptly titled novel captures the turmoil of the pandemic but also the resilience of people. The result is an ode to ordinary individuals living through extraordinary times.

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