Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Passage

This 872-page post-apocalyptic thriller by Justin Cronin seemed interminable. It is well written and had its moments but I begrudge the way it pushed other books to the side for the weeks it took me to read it.

It is a fantasy saga that aspires to the same cult status as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but it not  nearly so compelling as those classics. The first third of the book, which takes place in the Time Before -- the proximate future leading up to the apocalyptic event -- was for me the best part of the book. When the narrative picks up a hundred years later, describing the world of the human survivors and the nasty vampire-like creatures transformed by a virus (called variously virals, smokes and dracs), there are moments of action and suspense punctuated by long periods of tedium as Cronin laboriously details the social structure and way of life in the Colony, an outpost of human survivors where the days are numbered by failing batteries needed to power the lights and keep the virals at bay during the night.

It is an intriguing and coherent world and Cronin's writing is consistently literate and at time quite captivating. But it just goes on and on and on way too long. It takes us down multiple labyrinths into the minds of various characters who then disappear from the narrative. Why? Yes, we get it that some of the virals practice mind control, but we don't need to see it repeated in several characters we don't care about and won't see ever again.

Cronin is color blind in depicting his characters, with both human heroes and virals being both white and black, and race is only occasionally or never indicated. The Jaxons, for instance, Theo and Peter, are presumably black because of certain details in the family history and the description of their "Auntie". Amy is clearly white because her mother is surprised to find so many black people in Memphis. In other cases, names indicate a Latino or Indian heritage. Race is simply not important in this post-apocalyptic world where people are just happy to be with other humans.

I do have a weakness for the genre, which is probably why I stayed with this book through the tedious parts. I like catastrophe films, too; there's just something appealing about disasters that threaten humankind. I'm not a big fan of zombies or vampires, but Cronin does add some original twists to his creatures that make them more interesting.

The author is a bit heavy-handed about fate and destiny and things meant to be. If there is a solution to these enigmas, he doesn't disclose it in this book, the first volume of what is already a series following the release this summer of the sequel, The Twelve. When all is said and done, I liked this book well enough and the world it created, but I'm not sure I'll wade through an over-long sequel any time soon.

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