The “required” fiction for the Coronavirus is usually DeFoe’s Journal of the Plague Year and Camus La Peste, or in English The Plague. Both writers had been journalists, so both books had the essence of truth. So now we must ask: How would serious fiction writers handle today’s terrifying experiences? Hopefully, not with tragedy, but with hopes and solutions and even a few smiles. Here are a few.
John Steinbeck: Of Mice And Men: Lennie in this case isn’t a “dumbbell”. He’s a smart (if eccentric) biochemist experimenting with “mice” to save “men”. Still, the people of is town–mainly vegans and PETA radicals–want to get rid of him, though his friend George tries to reason with them. In the last chapter, Lennie is being strung up by a posse of vegetarians and rodent-lovers. At the last minute, George cries out, “Wait! Wait! Lennie’s mouse is….ejecting anti-bodies. Lennie has saved the town,.” They let him go, and with the solution at hand, celebrate with a square dance.
Homer: Odyssey: Ulysses and his merry crew of friends are on a cruise around the islands of the Aegean Sea. When one of them gets the sniffles, the superstitious islanders refuse to let them dock their boats, saying they are afflicted with CoronaVirus. The giant Cyclops is more hospitable (though with one eye, he is myopic), Ceres the witch is also courteous, (though as Richard Dawkins “selfish gene”, she has no choice but to turn the men into pigs. The Sirens try to lull them with songs of weird placebos (“Oh sailors, come give us thanks/ And swallow the stuff that cleans fish tanks”). Finally, Ulysses docks in his homeland of Ithaka, which houses the Cornell Medical School, and they get the cure.
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women: Nothing is good about the virus. Yet it has quickly stemmed the traditional malicious jokes about doctors and nurses. The latter especially have graduated from being mere attendants–”Little Women”–to those women (and men) who sacrifice time and family, frequently working with a paucity of necessary equipment, trying to comfort and console, to perform dangerous tasks of recovery, to toil hour after hour, endlessly using their skills for the survival of others. “Little women?” asks one. “They are Gods and Titans. In a secular world, they are our divinities.”
Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet: The two teenagers, ignorant of the virus peril, have found love in the tribal Spring Break rituals. The problem comes two weeks later, when Friar Lawrence — who, as usual in Renaissance times, served as doctor and pharmacist — makes a horrible discovery. Juliet has chills, aches and a fever. She obviously has the virus. Friar Lawrence must isolate her away from love-smitten Romeo. The Friar puts her in a catacomb under his church, telling Romeo “Juliet can ne’er be seen from above/;In fact she is dying for your love.” The impulsive Romeo runs tearfully away when he hears she is “dying” and finds her two weeks later, almost recovered. With joy, they mime elbow-kiss and sing to each other across six feet of distance:
“Is this much ado about nothing? Tis a dream, not a pleasure.
For Corona today seems the entrance to hell;/
So we two–and the world–will step measure for measure
Till–radiant hope!–we sing All’s well that ends well.”