Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Stephen King has been praising the hell out of The Passage since the beginning of 2010.  The hype he has praised on Justin Cronin’s novel is well deserved.  It is the best novel I’ve read all year.
I’ve been telling all my friends that The Passage is about vampires that are created by the military through scientific means; plans go awry when the vampires run amok and their virus spreads like wildfire.  To reduce this novel down to that premise is a disservice.  The Passage is really about what people do to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, how they live, love, honor and dis-honor each other.  It has much more in common with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series, which is not really about zombies, but what the human race does to survive a disaster.
Cronin has a great new twist on vampires, but what grabbed me early on was his handling of character.  The army experiments with the virus on criminals who are on death row.  One of them, Carter, has a heartbreaking past and wrongly convicted.  The FBI agent sent to retrieve these convicts is named Wolgast, and he has a tragic past as well.  And there there is Amy, the Girl From Nowhere, as she’s described in the opening page:
Before she became The Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, The First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.
The day Amy was born, her mother, Jeanette, was nineteen years old. Jeanette named her baby Amy for her own mother, who’d died when Jeanette was little, and gave her the middle name Harper for Harper Lee, the lady who’d written To Kill a Mockingbird, Jeanette’s favorite book—truth be told, the only book she’d made it all the way through in high school. She might have named her Scout, after the little girl in the story, because she wanted her little girl to grow up like that, tough and funny and wise, in a way that she, Jeannette, had never managed to be. But Scout was a name for a boy, and she didn’t want her daughter to have to go around her whole life explaining something like that.
This book is a whopper of a tale.  It almost seems like three novels in one volume.  Just when you think you know where the novel is going, after about 300 pages, the rug is pulled out and everything changes.  You have to wonder why Cronin spent all the time describing Patient Zero, Carter, etc., and then a lot of this back story pays off at the end.  The Passage is part 1 of a trilogy and Carter will no doubt re-appear in the next two books.
There is a colorful cast of characters in the post-apocalyptic section, which becomes the heart of the novel.  I don’t want to describe too much in detail, but there is a fascinating multi-cultural Colony that survives in the mountains of California.  The vampires are formidable—lightning fast, super-strong—but they are not supernatural, and the Colony members can use blades or guns to kill them if they are skillful.  The Colony survives on electricity and light, resources that can’t last indefinitely.  There is a quest, a journey from California to Las Vegas to Colorado, love triangles, and plenty of action and suspense along the way.

This video interview with Cronin gives you some insight as to how he came to write The Passage.  His daughter wanted him to write a book about a girl who saves the world.
Warning: do not click on the above video to go to the YouTube page—the comments there spoil the ending.
While the Passage is part one of a trilogy, it feels like a complete seven course meal to me.  Yes, there are many questions and plot threads left to untangle, but it feels like a good place to stop.  When the second book arrives I shall be among the first to buy it.  Nuff Said!
Link: The Passage by Justin Cronin (Amazon)

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