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Review: The Passage (2010)

July 26th, 2010

Released this past June, The Passage was a very well deserved "break in" fiction for the Kindle.

So what happens when you turn over to a “legitimate author” the dystopian, post-apocalyptic genre with a mix of vampires and the “fast-zombies” of 28 Days Later?  Well, the long and the short of it (and this will be the last reference to “short”) is 784 pages of frackin’ awesome.

The author is Justin Cronin, whose prior works, “The Summer Guest” and “Mary and O’Neil”, were less mass-marketable titles.  They were, however, popular and well received, with each earning pretty solid reviews and critical acclaim.  In “The Passage”, he breaks out into the world of big, Hollywood-tie-in fiction.  And he does so by journeying into a realm that, to be honest, few “legitimate” modern authors have ventured into.

Yes, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker became legends with the monster book story, and each did so with sophistication. But the modern face of monster fiction is the drivel that Stephenie Meyer has made a fortune off of.  I’ve not read and have no intention to read Twilight books.  One only needs to understand that they are written for an ADD, tween audience with film in mind.  I imagine her books must be like Dan Brown vomited up a trilogy with no religious underpinnings and a lot more self-cutting.

I’m probably not being fair, as this isn’t really a genre I seek out in books.  I generally read more non-fiction than fiction and I tend to stick with the classics or some Michael Chrichton (who, to be honest, probably actually would qualify as something not far off this genre).  Nevertheless, I imagine most horror fiction is somewhat like a harlequin novel or the Star Wars spin-off books.  Not a lot of thought, but mindless enjoyment.

“The Passage” is so very much more than that.  Click on through for why.

I’m going to try to be cognizant of avoiding spoilers because I’m giving this book a HUGE buy recommendation.  Quite simply, it’s a great read and so massive that it’s hard to deny the value in cost-per-hours-of-thrilling reading.  There have been a few books in my life where I’ve found myself reading deep into the night.  Probably the best example was Chrichton’s “Jurassic Park” as a teen. “The Passage” is one of those types of books, except it was so in depth that it was a good 12 days of reading to get through (instead of the two days spent on JP).

Looking at the size of the book is probably a bit intimidating when deciding whether or not to dive in.  Apologies to Tolstoy aside, I’ve never read “War and Peace” for that very reason. But this book is worth the plunge.

The hardcover art is a bit more revealing. While the papeback implied "The Road", the hardcover invites one in to ask "what."

When trying to draw comparisons, I think you start and immediately jump into Max Brooks’ “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War”, which has just been green-lit as a Brad Pitt film vehicle and which I greatly enjoyed (and just realized I never reviewed).  Cronin does, in fact, use some of the same tools as Brooks did to switch into “history” mode to advance the story in a few spots.

Unlike Brooks, Cronin does not jump around and instead focuses on and develops characters with great depth.  There are some times where you don’t quite know where he’s going with things, but you quickly realize that he very much so has a plan.  And that plan is something that surprised me a bit.

It’s clear that this book has, or soon will have, a movie deal in place.  Cronin wrote this as part one of a planned trilogy; however, it could end up being as many as five films because the story is incredibly deep and well woven.  It would be hard to imagine one trying to fit this first part into one 150 minute film.  At best, you’d end up with a three hour marathon as with The Return of the King. And The Lord of the Rings is another good start in figuring out what this book draws from, especially “Fellowship of the Ring.”

The other book that comes to mind when picking up “The Passage” is Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.  While I loved that book and gave it a very positive review here, it should be noted that they are very different, though they share the same bleak and difficult characters and visceral imagery.  Although both are more about the characters than the horrors they face, there is a distinction to be noted in that McCarthy does not probe for a Why?  We simply learn of the Man and the Boy, coming to accept the reality of their world.

In “The Passage”, Cronin asks us to inquire, to think deeply and wonder with his projections as to what the world once was and whether it could be returned to that level.  It is as if there is a part of Cronin’s writing which makes us all yearn for the Sanctuary he has created, both knowing and pushing back at the reality of turning eight and learning the harsh reality with Teacher.  As you’ll learn when you read on, that moment of revelation and pain, freedom and enslavement, is a passage that even we as readers must take.

All in all, I hesitate to write much more.  I really don’t want to reveal and discuss too much, but for all of you out there who are going to crack it open or slide on a Kindle with it loaded up… well, I’d love to see the looks on your faces as you get drawn in by Amy, Peter, Lish and Hightop.  This was the best fiction work I’ve read since “The Road” and will make one heck of a movie, if done right.

That does not mean there are a few Dan Brown moments where Cronin’s storytelling doesn’t function a bit too much like standard fare Hollywood.  Action sequences are among the hardest to craft outside of the stereotype, and there are a few moments where Cronin plays into what one would expect to see on the silver screen.  One, in particular, involving a small compartment left me cringing.  But the negatives in this book are few and far between.  It’s a brilliant first step in an adventure and I can’t wait to read the next.

Buy it here and thank me later.

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