I tend to suffer from zombie burnout rather easily, only occasionally dipping my foot into the ever increasing pool of zombie fiction, and by all accounts my reluctance towards zombie fiction meant I rather missed out when it comes to Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series (Feed, Deadline, Blackout). However, the notion behind Grant’s most recent horror novel fascinated me (in a “Ew, that’s disturbing” kind of way). In Parasite the company SymboGen has developed a genetically engineered parasite, a tapeworm to be precise, which bolsters and improves the human immune system. Just about everyone has one of these parasites and in the opening chapters of the novel it is her parasite which save’s Sally Mitchell’s life after a fatal car crash.
Sally wakes up with an undocumented type of amnesia having no memories at all, everything from her family, her personal life, right on down to basic social interaction is no longer present. Forced to reacquire these skills over time Sally is essentially an entirely new person; an entity almost entirely separate from the woman she was before the crash. A significant portion of the novels first half focuses on this fact and Grant’s does a wonderful job at conveying the strides Sally has made in forming new memories and also the difficulties she has in her everyday life. I thought that some of Sally’s condition, and exactly what happened to her, was a bit easy to piece together right from the get go. I thought that Grant hinted a bit too strongly about Sally’s condition and the revelation, while important for Sally late in the novel, lacked the impact it needed.
While much of Parasite focuses on Sally’s struggles it also slowly becomes clear that other stranger things are occurring as people begin entering strange fugue-like walking coma states. Seemingly forgetting everything about themselves until they are essentially left in a coma. Grant doesn’t go full-out zombie with these folks. The people with the “sleeping sickness” are viewed through the lens of medical science, at least to an extent, and the means through which the disease is spread is kept in the dark throughout the novel. As incidents of the sleeping sickness increase in the novel so does the tension, particularly when one of the infected speaks a mangled version of Sally’s name. That tension takes a bit of a backseat in the second half of the novel. Grant goes into full on info-dump mode in the late novel. This definitely takes a bit of the novel’s momentum away. The revelations take much of the mystery away and with out the uneasiness inspired by the unknown factor the novel feels a bit weaker as a result. Grant still manages to pack some rather frightening scenes into the later sections of the novel. I was particularly chilled by her depiction of a military medical facility as wall as Sally’s home encounter with some of those with the sleeping sickness.
However, and this may sound strange, my favorite parts of Parasite involved a fictional children’s book called Don’t Go Out Alone. Used as a cipher and a metaphor in the novel the children’s story is both haunting and utterly fascinating. I was absolutely enchanted by the few passages revealed in dialogue and those used as epigraphs and the description of the overall plot of the story given in the novel made desperately wish Don’t Go Out Alone was a real book. In fact it was the presence of Don’t Go Out Alone that really helped me get through the exposition heavy second half of the novel.
Grant, despite some faltering, definitely manages to up the tension as the novel nears the end. Unfortunately, this is also the problem since when things are set to get the most explosive the novel ends. To say that the ending is abrupt might be a bit of an understatement. Parasite is the first part of a duology a fact that is both disappointing and heartening. A refreshing blend of science fiction and horror Parasite is an entertaining and frequently chilling book that fans for horror should definitely give it a look. Parasite is to the world of parasites what Jurassic Park is to the world of dinosaurs.