Read an eARC from NetGalley
Content warning: murder, gore, blood
There’s an emerging subgenre in 2022 where a mysterious contagion makes people fly into a rage. While this is part of the premise of this novella, And Then I Woke Up examines the aftermath and the power of narrative when it comes to trauma. A cure isn’t as simple as dealing with It also looks at the power of narrative as it relates to violence and justification.
Deeply introspective with flashbacks to all the trappings of a zombie apocalypse, this is one of the saddest horror stories I’ve ever read.
Spence, our main character, is also older than many protagonists I’ve read about. It lends really well to the introspection that unfolds. There’s also a good rapport between him and the other patients at Ironside. It’s impressive how rounded the side characters are, even though many of them only show up for a sentence or two. The process of “the narrative” shows up as a character in and of itself, and I’d almost argue it’s the antagonist. Leila and Spence mirror off each other wonderfully, the specifics of which are spoilers.
The presentation of the virus in this one is fascinating. Where in many other violent apocalypses, there’s a cinematic element to what the violence and contagion looks like. But in this one, there’s a high possibility it’s all in the afflicted’s head. They think there’s a zombie apocalypse happening, which is what makes them violent. But even that’s up for debate. It’s very subtly depicted as a viral delusion told in various flashbacks that retreads similar scenes.
There’s also a strong theme of compassion and redemption that hides out in the background of the aftermath. The reveals and “what really happened” segments are absolutely devastating as a result. The repetition of specific phrases effectively depicts Spence’s mental state. It’s difficult to be in. But there’s also such clarity to the fractured world beyond Ironside’s four walls. We get to go there. It’s effective in its presentation, and I found myself emotionally flattened.
Survival in this novella is a deeply interior process where the violence happening around the characters isn’t even the most upsetting part.