THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin

Book Quote:

“The Army needed between ten and twenty death-row inmates to serve in the third-stage trials of an experimental drug therapy, codenamed Project Noah.   In exchange for their consent, these men would have their sentences commuted to life without parole.  It would be Wolgast’s job to obtain the signatures of these men, nothing more.  Everything had been legally vetted, but because the project was a matter of national security, all of these men would be declared legally dead.  Thereafter, they would spend the rest of their lives in the care of the federal penal system, a white-collar prison camp, under assumed identities.  The men would be chosen based upon a number of factors, but all would be men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five with no living first-degree relatives.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn (JUN 7, 2010)

In this staggering book of speculative fiction, Cronin has proven that he can transcend genre and, with his power of language, create a distant world that feels close and credible. This is not your typical zombie or vampire novel; it isn’t cheesy or reductive. It shares some characteristics with its progenitor, The Stand, and fans of King’s work will be arguably riveted by this (more updated) novel. But there are as many differences as there are similarities, and Cronin’s ambitions are ultimately more complex and expansive. Cronin covers a longer period of time and delves more densely and philosophically into the dark and grey areas of the human psyche. Also, his poetic and luminous language and metaphysical subtext eclipses, in my opinion, King’s earlier work.

The story is teased out gradually, moving back and forth from places as far and deep as a Bolivian jungle, to the deserts and mountains of the west and southwest, to the concrete jungle of Houston, Texas, and many stops throughout. The disparate narrative threads converge to a point after the first 250 pages, and then we are thrust into a new world order at a place called The Colony. Some readers feel that this middle section is rather slow, but it is actually where Cronin shines. He introduces new characters that are likely to stay the course of the trilogy, and he is more meditative and succulent in his prose. The final 250 pages illuminate ambiguities that may still be humming and create a climax that heads toward a continuation.

There is a lot more than good and evil at play here, although the moral heft is evident, as human forces must combat malevolent viral creatures. But the incipience, growth, and psychology of these viral entities is not so simple. The relationship between the survivors and the creatures is more like a Venn diagram than a dualistic paradigm. Moreover, the human condition is explored in different states of wakefulness and sleep, in a myriad of conscious states, and connects all beings, whether viral or human. It also raises the question of, “who are the monsters?”

Divided into eleven sections, (with numerous chapters), the novel covers approximately one hundred years, starting circa 2014. However, there are three time periods that are pertinent to the story, two that are covered in detail. Each new section is headed by a short verse of Shakespeare from a play or sonnet, or else a poem by Shelley or other poet that has a poignant significance to the narrative. For instance, this verse by Henry Vaughan, from “The World:”

I saw eternity the other night
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright,
And round beneath it time in hours, days, years,
Driven by the spheres,
Like a vast shadow moved in which the world
And all her train were hurled.

Cronin’s sense of place; of time; of timelessness; and his magnificent explorations of memories; of memories folded and unfolded and twisted in time; and of the self and the Shadow self, are examples of his bridges from genre to literature. He balances intellectual and action narrative with enough gusto to keep all audiences satisfied. The plot and story have a solid pace, although he takes his time to develop his characters and illuminate the back-stories. Additionally, as in his superb novel, The Summer Guest, Cronin’s prose glitters with moving beauty. “…while you sank into the dreamy softness of your seat and sipped ginger ale from a can and watched the world float in magical silence past your window, the tallest buildings of the city in the crisp autumn light and then the backs of the houses with laundry flapping and a crossing with gates where a boy was waving from his bicycle, and then the woods and fields and a single cow eating grass.”

There are, occasionally, some minor snags in the construction. A few devices are employed at intervals, and there are times when a character is improbably saved from the clutches of disaster. Yet, the author does it with panache, in dramatic scenes portrayed with a soulful and melancholy elegance. He avoids melodrama. He gets inside the head of his characters, and they are made of flesh and bone, not straw. It is also satisfying to see that this is a very diverse cast of multi-ethnicities. The landscape of people is naturally rendered, not making a statement but rather reflecting a realistic ethnic pool of combinations.

The Passage is the first of an ambitious trilogy. The journeys on foot or by hoof, by machine or by dream, are full of serrated adventure. And it immerses you in all strains of love–sibling, maternal, paternal, friendship, romantic, and a crushing one of cross-purposes. And it has stars, the moon, bones, and blades, guns and garrisons, trees and cliffs. And did I say stars? A-

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 2,381 readers
PUBLISHER: Ballantine Books (June 8, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Justin Cronin
EXTRAS: Excerpt and Web Site
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Post-Apocalyptic:


The Passage Trilogy:

June 7, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Horror, Literary, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative (Beyond Reality), y Award Winning Author

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