Monday, August 27, 2012

Book review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Amazon says: “An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival,The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.”
That’s… a pretty condensed description, given that this book is ~800 pages long and Amy is in about 60% of it (not because she dies! Not a spoiler.) In fact, that’s really more of a set-up than it is in the description. The majority of the novel concerns human refugees trying to survive following a viral pandemic that killed most humans, and turned the rest into a vampiric species that has decimated most remaining human enclaves.
Immediately after I finished this a few weeks ago, I had a lot of thoughts about it, positive and negative. After those few weeks of reflection, the aspects of the book that stick with me the most are, unfortunately, the ones that left a negative impression. To start with the positive before I get too critique-y: I always love a good pandemic/survival plot, and Cronin keeps good pacing and suspense throughout the lengthy expanse of the novel. I didn’t get bored of reading and was overall invested in the story. But.

The novel is as long as it is mainly because Cronin insists on having, like, 20 main characters, and giving each of them a few narrative pages, and then giving some supporting characters narrative first-person pages too, just for shits and giggs. As a result, there are so many characters, and very few of them are really developed. Or, a character will become fully fleshed out, and we’ll start caring about him/her, and then we won’t hear from him/hear again for the next 200 pages. It’s quite frustrating. The Passage is still essentially linear, and the shifts between character POVs don’t break up the time continuum much, but character continuity is often completely destroyed. I got so tired of having to jump to another character just when one got interesting.
Given all of that, it shouldn’t have been surprising how disappointing, nay, infuriating, the ending was. There are “open” endings, and there are cliffhanger endings, and this was worse. Whatever precious little emotional goodwill invested in the characters is absolutely shat on, as precisely zero of the characters are granted any kind of resolution whatsoever. The ending read like one of the abrupt transitions between character POVs, except it was the end of the whole book. It’s almost like Cronin was like, “Well, I’m tired of writing, and after 800 pages, they’re probably tired of reading, so this should be good enough!”

So — would I recommend this book? Well, no, honestly. And I feel bad, saying so, because it didn’t really feel like a bad or sub-par book as I was reading it. I was engaged. It was well-written. But it was a bit jumpy and abrupt, and for it to end as such just seemed lazy. I understand, and often enjoy, open endings, because they are thought provoking, and on top of collecting my own thoughts, I often want to go out into the fandom and connect with other people and read their thoughts. But this wasn’t like that. It just pissed me off, to be honest. It’s like the last 50 pages of the book just got lost in between the editor’s desk and the printing press. It’s as if I were to end this review without actually

1 comment:

  1. Originally read this book a year ago in hardcover. Read again to "refresh" the story line before reading the second book in series.