Monday, November 01, 2010

The Passage, a Review

Earlier this year, Justin Cronin's much acclaimed novel The Passage was released.  The book was hyped to be The Book of the year, offering such a fine and well-written story that all who read it would be left in its wake with their mouths open and their eyes begging for more.  The movie rights were bought before the book even had time to rest itself on the shelves.  Sequels were planned.  I knew I wanted to read the book, so I jumped on the wait-list at the library.  The library ordered eight copies, I was number 26, and the waiting began.

The Passage is mostly compared to Stephen King's The Stand.  Cronin's work is epic in scope and in the telling, spanning over a thousand years in points of the plot with a character list well in to the double digits.  There are three interconnected plots going on in the novel, and all three work together to create a tale that's bleak in the outlook.

Plot One begins in the near future.  Many changes have happened in America, and most of them seem like reasonable/believable changes.  New Orleans is basically one large factory now.  Traveling between states may require documentation.  But scientists are still searching for a cure to many diseases and provide longevity.  One, Dr. Lear, thinks he may have found the answer.  The US Army takes an interest in Lear's work, provides funding, joins the team, and the new partnership dives headlong into research & development.  Test subjects are collected and the world takes a turn for the worse.

Plot Two takes place almost one hundred years later.  It is the major plot of the book, covering about 70% of the 769 pages, and now the American world is a desolate, rusting wasteland.  The outbreak of the virals put an end to nearly all life, and those that have managed to survive so long have done so in fear and anxiety.  In California, a resemblance of life and culture exist in the Colony, the Last City, but it's one of despair and utilitarian in nature.  Things are slowly going downhill, and they know that one day soon their batteries will stop working and the lights will fail to come on.  Then nothing will stop the virals.  But, when a small girl walks into the Colony one day, alone and unharmed, a wave of unrest drops on the survivor's like a bomb.

The Third Plot is very sparsely told.  It's set over a thousand years after the outbreak.  Everything is revealed through journal entries or letters.  The impression is that someone in the future is reading these notes on the American Quarantine Zones, though the identity is never revealed.  Cronin will sometimes use a chunk of journal entries to pass through several days for the protagonists, and while passive in tone, it generally works well.

One of the joys of reading The Passage was that Justin Cronin is a fantastic writer.  His descriptions summon up imagery easily.  His prose reads fluidly, action-filled when needed to be, and sizzling on the burner when called for.  There were scenes that had me nervous to read because I knew something was going to happen, and I liked the characters so much that I didn't want anything to happen to them.  Some scenes are genuinely creepy, some funny, and some so fast-paced that it's hard to catch your breath.  Yes, Justin Cronin knows how to write.  

On the other hand, he may know how to write too well.  I felt that some of the character's were expounded on too much, especially minor characters that appear only once or twice.  It was almost as if Cronin didn't want to leave any stones unturned.  Also, some of the daily expressions used seem a bit overdone (Flyers!), but the world he's crafted is believable and the curse works.

I'm not sure exactly how to classify The Passage.  In some parts it's horror.  In others its definitely science-fiction.  Even more, it's fantasy.  The blend of genres creates a remarkable tale that has me interested in reading its sequel whenever it comes out.  All in all, the book is a very good read.  It's well-written, thought-provoking, and leaves you wanting more.  I can easily recommend Justin Cronin's The Passage to anyone looking for a good book to read.


contemplatrix said...

I had heard Vampire attached to this one and dismissed it. will have to give it another look. I do have a few people in mind for this one, after reading your review.

good post, thanks!


logankstewart said...

@L: Yeah, I suppose I should add an addendum that "vampires" aren't really attached to the book. Well, not your traditional vampire, anyway. It's more like a vampire+zombie+mutant+??? combo, and it works really well.

Lightheaded said...

While reading the book, the third plot was at the back of my mind. I know it's there. I know the first two plots are just part of a past that is being told. Still, it was kind of unnerving, reaching the last pages with the ending.

Glad you enjoyed reading this one :)

logankstewart said...

@Lightheaded: Yeah, in some ways it's like the Third Plot negates the other two, since it's so far in the future, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. And I can't get over that ending!

Kristopher A. Denby said...

Okay, despite the bulging back log of books, this is getting added. I skipped over most of your review because it seemed like you were tossing out a lot of details that I didn't want to spoil myself with. You had me around the first paragraph, so I'm heading out to get this today.

Thanks, Logan.

logankstewart said...

@Kris: Hope you like it. It's a monster of a book... (was that pun intended?)