Who is the Real Messenger?
The Messenger, by Stephen Miller. Delacorte Press, 313 pp. $26
“The Messenger is fiction but it is not fantasy, ” Miller wrote in his “Sources and Acknowledgements” for his new novel. And, certainly, he is correct. The Messenger is a story of bio-terror, a topic very present in our news broadcasts, our films, and our thriller novels.
But The Messenger is no ordinary thriller novel. The protagonist, Daria Vermiglio, has lost everything. A child of a war zone, she was considered one of the “lucky” girls because she was not raped or molested by the soldiers. Even so, her mother and brothers will killed and her father was taken away.
She was taken, selected for indoctrination in the Western way of life. She went to school in Italy, read books and dressed like the other girls.
They had a plan for her all along.
Daria was chosen to become an “arrow,” a carrier of a ruthless strain of small pox. She rinsed her hands in the virus, smoothed it over her hair, and boarded a plane from Berlin to New York City.
Everything she touches will die, including herself.
The only hope America has is in the hands of Dr. Sam Watterman, a researcher who was disgraced by the federal government for alleged involvement in the post-September 11 anthrax attacks. In its time of need, the government once again calls him in to help them understand how so many people are suddenly contracting this deadly virus.
The Messenger covers 16 days, beginning with Daria boarding the plane.
In a traditional thriller novel, the “good guy / bad guy” roles are apparent. But Miller intended Daria to be sympathetic, even when her views oppose those of the book’s intended audience:
Oh! What an extraordinary accomplishment: dedicated martyrs, language training, a few weeks of flying lessons, and some box cutters. What did 9/11 do to the United States? To the whole world! Now the fear is palpable, written in full-body scanners and concrete barriers. Any time an American has to endure the security searches at an airport, or go through a metal detector at a sporting event, city hall, or federal building, they know who is really winning the battle.
And yet, this same Daria finds herself degenerating of her own disease, and she sees as citizens of the country she’s meant to conquer step up to help her when she needs them the most. But only she knows that each gentle touch is nothing more than a death sentence.
The question remains: Will Daria succeed? Will Sam find her in time to save the helpless citizens? And what is the message ultimately being transmitted?
The Messenger is available in hardcover.