Book Review: The Passage

The PassageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror

Read: Late June 2010

Summary: Excellent.

Nne of this year’s top new vampire entries. It’s an odd book, long, and broken into three parts, but good. The first third is set more or less in the present and deals with how a viral epidemic that turns people into nearly indestructible vampire-like creatures gets loose and destroys the world. The writing is good and this section is a bit of an oddity in that the plot itself is minimal, but padded out with almost gratuitous backstory on nearly every character. Bit players that we meet in the gas station for one page get five pages of life story flashback. All these people, lovingly details, die quickly. Oddly, it works and is a compelling read. However, it makes me scratch my head as all the standard writing advice I’ve been given by editors, agents, and the like would’ve been to cut all these backstories. In fact, they certainly would’ve told me that the entire first third of the book is backstory, and the proper place to start was far later. At a certain level they are correct, because there is only one character — and an odd one at that — who crosses from this long prelude into the main two thirds of the novel.

The middle third of the book takes place 100 years later and totally kicks ass. This was some of the best Sci-fi/horror I’ve read in years. It’s post apocalyptic, taking place in this one compound somewhere in the California desert. They are under continual siege by vampires, and their numbers are dwindling. Their entire life and society is organized around survival, but slow attrition of their numbers is the only thing in their future. The Road Warrior meets I-don’t-know-what feel of this section is awesome. Cronin does a fantastic job of world building here, and the specific animalistic vampires (a bit reminiscent of I am Legend) is great. In some way’s it feels more like a Zombie apocalypse because it has that feeling of instant-death-at-any-second.

In part three, these same characters are forced out of their little sanctuary into the big bad world. This part is still good, but does a little shark jumping and borrows very heavily from things like the Stand, etc. I didn’t mind, but the ending felt a little forced and just didn’t quiet sustain the promise of the amazing middle section.

Still, the overall novel was excellent. Flawed, but the middle part was so great, and the first and third sections enjoyable enough, to make it one of the better books I’ve read in a while.

6 comments on “Book Review: The Passage

  1. Peter says:

    I found the book to be just flawed enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth. While I agree the 2nd half in-the-future section was well done, there were two overall flaws that almost ruined the book for me.

    First, the transition from the first half to the 2nd half of the book is so sudden — and so different — that I actually put the book down for a few days. The whole “these are our rules and how we’ve lived for the last 100 years” just jarred too much. Fortunately, I got past it.

    Second, (spoiler alert!) the way the old nun came back at the end. The injection she got that allowed her to do this… it all happened so quickly during such a fast-paced scene 300 pages earlier that I forgot it happened. I had NO idea what was going on or how she got there. (Then again, I probably read that first scene at 2:30 in the morning.)

    Ok, so now I recommend two books for you that I think will inform your writing style.

    First, if you haven’t read it, read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s short, taut, almost devoid of all past detail… and yet so worthy of the Pulitzer it won. Really, maybe the best post-apocalyptic book I’ve ever read… and I’ve read Lucifer’s Hammer 3 or 4 times now., Oh, and the main lesson I want you to take away is: how does he convey so much emotion and so much detail in so few words?

    Second, read Jonathan Franzen’s massive new Freedom. It’s very different from most of what you read but full of lessons. And the lesson here? How does a 600 page book with NO likable characters keep you up way past your bedtime multiple nights?

    Finally, congrats on entering the world of blogging. You might find it rewarding in unexpected ways.

    (You know, your friend of 27 years who runs Flashlight Worthy)
    Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations
    Recommending books so good, they’ll keep you up past your bedtime. 😉

    • agavin says:

      Yeah both those things bothered me about the Passage too. I would probably have just scrapped the first part, and the whole sudden Ami/Nun solution at the end and come up with some better way to make a big arc out of the second part.

      I’ve read Suttree (McCarthy) and seen the movie version of the Road. I’ll have to check out the book. McCarthy’s prose I found fascinating and gorgeous, but at the same time they are such “literary” sentences as to be a very well… literary (and probably not readable by the more mass market reader). I’ll buy both recommends though.

      • Peter says:

        The Road is eminently readable — even by a 12 year old. It’s almost Hemingwayesque in it’s simplicity. At least, that’s how I remember it.

        And as far as “the mass market reader” — that sounds like someone trying to write a book that sells, not someone who just wants to get his thoughts out to the world. That’s ok, ’cause if you want to sell, The Road sold a LOT of copies. Pulitzer winner. Oprah pick. Major Hollywood film. In every single airport bookstore. Any author would KILL for sales like that. 😉

  2. agavin says:

    I read the first two pages of The Road on my Kindle. It certainly wouldn’t give me a problem, but there is a “stretched” out quality to the sentences that you have to adapt to. They are evocative, but not necessarily straightforward. He uses the word granitic! Not like Suttree though where most sentences are paragraph length. But more importantly, although I’m an eminently commercial artist — always have been — I prefer to read clear relatively uncomplicated prose. Not clunky like say… Twilight (take a look at that if you want to groan), but I’ve always liked books where the prose doesn’t get too much in the way, where the emphasis is on character and story. Not saying that isn’t true of The Road, haven’t read it yet. Often when I read more literary books I find the style dominates the story.

  3. […] the suggestion of my friend Peter (in comments on my review of The Passage) I picked up The Road. I’d seen the movie a couple months ago. This novel is a relative […]

  4. […] the suggestion of my friend Peter (in comments on my review of The Passage) I picked up The Road. I’d seen the movie a couple months ago. This novel is a relative […]

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