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Something Like a Review – The Passage by Justin Cronin

T’was a few weeks before Christmas and all through the store,
I looked for new horror that wasn’t a snore.
What to my wondering eyes should appear,
….but a new post-apocalyptic story with vampires!

Yes, I broke the rhyme, but I didn’t really care. With a new scary story in hand, my little heart squee’d and jumped with delight and I dug in with gusto.

In a manner of speaking.

I got this one from Audible.com, so “digging in” was more like clicking here, clicking there, syncing my device and hooking headphones onto my ears so the story could unwind somewhere between my ears and my brain. But more on that later.

The Passage is a long and winding story spanning over a century covering the discovery of a virus, the evolution of an apocalyptic crisis that decimates the population of the United States to the very abrupt ending of the book. Justin Cronin uses historical references a journal being written by one of the travelers in the course of the story to allude to the fact that yes, the world does go on, but in a very different way after the story ends.

I liked the story. I liked the concept of the tale and the twist Cronin puts on the image of a traditional monster. The vampires are familiar, yet an entirely new breed. The complexities of the story kept me wondering what was coming next, or at least wondering if my hunches were correct. The new world is fully realized and Cronin does a great job of bringing a nightmare-haunted world to life through his descriptions of the relics of the past, and through the circumstances the characters are living through.

The depictions of the world Cronin creates are a vivid sensory experience and the cast of characters diverse and, for the most part, well-developed. I did have somewhat of an issue with two of the prominent female characters feeling artificial, but I will qualify that with the fact that I don’t think I liked who he created in at least one of the characters. Alicia, the character I neither liked nor really believed, seemed to have little to no female sentiment at all. I’m not one for archetypal characters, but I expected a little more tempering in her over-the-top, almost militantly masculine behavior. Early on in the story, allusions to her upbringing hint at a militaristic existence suggest this is entirely appropriate for her and later revelations support it. It is possible that I just didn’t like the character Cronin intended to create in her, but something about her rang false in my head and as a result, I found myself rolling my eyes when her character took center stage. Another character, Mausami, felt too…well, wishy-washy. She was the woman torn between two men – the one she loved, and the one she married in an attempt to force the man she loved into action. In the circumstances of her life in the context of her world, she is forced into a protective custody and while she struggles against it, she evokes a sense of passivity that doesn’t seem like it fits her other actions. Again, I expected more tempering here, but this time, in the opposite way. She was a guardian of her colony and in that respect, I expected her to fight harder to live her life in a way that was meaningful to her.

One of my primary disappointments in this story was the involvement of a military force later in the story. My caveat to this disappointment is this: I’m a fan of the underdog. I want to see the average Joe pull through and accomplish astonishing things, even if the only astonishing thing is the fact that they survive in this dark wreckage of an Eden. I want to see people pull off the unthinkable and live to tell the tale. That being said, the presence of the military force long after they’re assumed to be a relic of a long-dead world seems like a cheap device. It’s too easy. It’s too expected.

A couple of other little things irked me the longer I listened. In this new world plagued by “virals,” new slang arises. The world “fliers” becomes an expression of anger, frustration, annoyance, and often seems to be dropped in where most people would swear. At first, it peppers the text to remind you that this is a different world, lived in under different circumstances – and that the “fliers” are the bad guys, and a negative thing. Then, it just gets abused and over-used. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it as much if I wasn’t listening to the text – but with the significant repetition, it became irritating. Another significant insignificant thing – this story takes place in the United States…and all these characters are using the metric system. As strange as that sounds, more than once, it snapped me out of the story haze. The US is relatively stubborn when it comes to adhering to English metrics, and I can’t imagine that even an apocalyptic event would prompt the conversion to a system that is resisted in times of peace and serenity.

The Passage is worth reading, though I would recommend turning off your internal nitpicker or critic because there are places where Cronin falls in love with his own words and you can hear the writing breaking through the crust of the story to wave at you to remind you there’s a scribbler at work behind the images. While the story starts of quite tight with respect to pace and style, it seems to fall slack and, frankly, lazy as the story goes along giving the impression, at times, like it’s dragging. My personal belief is there are scenes that could have been trimmed down or even eliminated to make the story more powerful. All in all, this was a good story with a new perspective on an old monster. I probably won’t invest the time in listening to it again (the audio was roughly 36 hours), but I enjoyed the tale and would recommend borrowing this one from a library or friend.

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