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August 29th, 2010 - Mo's Journal

August 29th, 2010

August 29th, 2010
10:27 am

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Recent Reading: The Passage by Justin Cronin
This is a book I have strong feelings about - strongly mixed feelings. My friend Leah says that when she's reading for pleasure she has three requirements for a book: "it made me laugh; it made me cry; it didn't keep me up at night." I often rate books on the Leah scale and for me this one was zero for three. Still the reason that it kept me up at night is that I found it truly compelling, even as there were things I felt like yelling at the author for. And it has kept me thinking about it since I finished. I would so love to discuss it with folks who have read it. So ultimately I do recommend it.

The Passage is a hugely popular (and huge - 770 pages, I think, although I read it on my phone so I'm not sure) novel that's being billed as the next novel in the vampire craze. Cronin, a professor at Rice University and graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, was previously an award-winning author of literary fiction that sold in small numbers. This book is a major departure for him. And one that has made him rich. The advance for the book was 3.75 million dollars and the movie rights were sold before the book was finished. The Passage is the first book in a planned trilogy, and he is clearly cashing in on the vampire craze of recent years.

Still, it's not really a vampire story, at least not as traditionally envisioned. There's nothing in this book that resembles the sexy vampires of Charlaine Harris and True Blood or the sparkly ones of the Twilight saga or even the coolly aristocratic and ever so exotically foreign ones that Bram Stoker started the whole thing with. The novel derives a lot more from Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the movie 28 Days Later, and anything by Michael Crichton or Stephen King than it does from anything in vampire fiction.
Spoilers Abound Beneath This CutCollapse )

The narrative style is a real hodgepodge. There are emails and diaries and first person narratives and third person semi-omniscient narrative and academic proceedings. It shouldn't all work together but somehow it really does, at least enough to keep you turning those pages. I admire his skill in making these diverse elements come together.

The book is very, very visual. It should make a great movie if they can cut the long and complex plot down sufficiently to film it. It's frightening and compelling and disturbing in its connection with the world we live in now. I found it hard to sleep while reading it.

At the same time, I have reservations about The Passage. It's so derivative and, in some ways and some sections, so slick that I was a little turned off by that. The characters and sub-plots are formulaic in the extreme. It's as if the author said to himself "Fuck this critically acclaimed stuff. I'm going to write a bestseller." And took what he needed from various books and movies to make it happen. In addition, the ending is more of a set up for the sequel than a conclusion to the story he was telling. It practically screams "tune in next year."

With all that, his skill as a writer is evident in every page and he brings something new to even the most overused tropes and the most formulaic of characters. I didn't laugh; I didn't cry; it did keep me up at night. Still, ultimately I'm glad I read it and I look forward to the movie and the sequels.

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