I think I started reading The Passage by Justin Cronin back in August. It had been on my must read list for a while and it remained that way until recently. I kept getting distracted by other books I had to read for reviews or paper writing but a couple of weeks ago, I decided I would sit down and finish The Passage if it killed me.
It didn’t kill me, but the book left me feeling drained. Other reviewers have compared it to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and yeah, that’s an apt comparison to an extent. Except Cronin uses quotation marks with his dialogue and the end of The Passage doesn’t make you want to shoot yourself in the face. [Oh, so I guess the book was like that, too? -Ed.]
I’m more inclined to compare The Passage to Watership Down. But with people instead of bunnies and vampires instead of evil farmers.
I should probably say that I enjoyed reading this book. I did. I love post apocalyptic survival stories. I love futuristic what-if scenarios. Basically, the first part of the book deals with the very near future – an America that we know. We follow Special Agent Wolgast (who I pictured as looking like Vampire Bill from True Blood, even though he’s not a vampire – weird) as he collects prisoners from facilities all across the country and brings them to a super secret lab for some seriously messed up scientific experimentation and shit. But then Wolgast is asked to pick up an abandoned child for the same creepy purposes and this doesn’t sit right with him.
This girl, Amy, is only six. As is to be expected, this crazy science stuff gets out of control and the drastically altered inmates bust loose, spreading their murderous virus all over the country. Wolgast escapes with Amy. 94 years pass. Then, Amy shows up at what appears to be the last holdout of humankind. She’s 14.
What the shit?
Of course, Amy’s arrival means change for this colony and that’s where the real story starts. The Passage is a brick, at almost 800 pages, and at times it felt even longer. One of my professors back in the day once told me to start a story as late as possible to provide readers with a sense of suspense and wonder. Cronin however, does the opposite and starts way too soon, cramming in way too much information throughout, so that nothing ever comes as a surprise.
Despite being an enjoyable survival/adventure narrative, The Passage could have been edited down. I felt like Cronin wasn’t sure whose story he was trying to tell. The book has an ensemble cast, but many plot threads just sort of peter out, amounting to not much of import. Without spoiling much, Cronin spends too much time in First Colony before Amy’s arrival. We spin our wheels in First Colony for a couple of hundred pages before anything happens. And when something finally does happen, the characters we’re left with seem to hop from one conflict to the next with long periods of waiting in between.
I feel like Cronin worked really hard on world and character development and then couldn’t bear to leave any detail out when it came time to actually write the story down. And the narrative is schizophrenic. Is this Amy’s story? We spend a lot of time with her in the beginning – enough so that when she shows up again, it’s no surprise. But when Amy reappears, we’re stuck with a new main character – Peter – who has all the personality of a wet noodle. And Amy is now mute. So, is this Peter’s story now? Cronin also occasionally inserts a chapter here and there from minor character POVs that scream: Pay attention! With this odd chapter, I am imparting to you valuable information even though you will never hear from this character again!
There’s no mystery. That’s what all this bitching boils down to. The Passage was a good read and if you like post apocalyptic survival stories, give it a shot. But what you read is what you get. No plot point, no character action comes as any sort of surprise because Cronin tells us everything we need to know about any given character right off the bat. There’s no sense of suspense. We know what’s going on with Amy when she reappears. We know everything. When Peter is finally let in on the big mystery of why the world is the way it is, we’ve already known for 700 pages. There is no big reveal because the readers have known all along. His discovery is anticlimactic. It even comes off as a “duh” moment.
That being said, I’m looking forward to reading The Twelve (The Passage is the first in a trilogy) when it comes out in the spring. A few things at the very, very end crop up that make reading the next volume mandatory. Plus, I just plain like Amy. I’m curious to see where Cronin takes her from here.