Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review: The Passage

While at Book Expo America in NYC this past May, I picked up an advance copy of Justin Cronin's The Passage. You sort of had to. The darn thing was all over the place! There were banners and posters, the author did two signings, and they even had a little advertisement on our event badges. So I picked one up (at 800 pages, I only had room for one copy!) thinking that I might offer it up as a giveaway to a to one of the bloggers I work with at my other 'job' as an online publicist.

I chatted about it with a couple of bloggers and they encouraged me to give it a go. At least invest 30 pages or so. Well, I did. And about 20 pages in was all it took to hook me! I have never read a 'chunkster' like this before and never really thought I would. My interest tends to wane pretty quickly if I'm simply being fed layer upon layer of background info. I need things to happen!

And it certainly does in The Passage. I tore through this weighty tome in a week. I read it at the bus stop, on the bus (thought about skipping stops), while waiting for water to boil, and at restaurants during the few minutes I grabbed while my dinner companion went to the bathroom. If you saw a woman around Milwaukee with a monster book and 'leave me alone' stare, that was me!

I've seen people describe this book with a number of descriptors: horror, thriller, suspense, and the obvious Stephen King comparisons, but it's so much more than all of that. It bears notes of post-apocalyptic emptiness, hope, fear, confusion, science, faith and weaves all of these ideas into tapestry of a history that, through his words, feels plausible.

As for my thoughts, well, I'm pretty terrible at reviewing books. I worry that I will give something away that would have been better discovered through your own reading. Some nuance, thought, description, or segue that would tickle your nerve endings and enrich your reading experience. If I'm among a group where I know everyone has read it, I'll talk about it all day! But when I'm not sure, I keep pretty tight lipped.

With that in mind, instead of giving you a synopsis, I would like to share a few of the many beautiful descriptions that moved me while reading. I dog-eared a number of pages (don't hate me, purists! It's an ARC!). Cronin's grace at crafting descriptions absolutely takes my breath away. Out of context, these sentences may evoke nothing, but I assure you, when read in the story, they're powerful. If nothing else, it might encourage you to pick up a copy of the book and find your own favorites. ;-) I also placed them out of order so they don't offer any chronological order to the story.

The buildings were larger now, monumental in scope, towering above the roadway with their great ruined faces. Some were burned, empty cages of steel girders, others half-collapsed, their facades fallen away to reveal the honeycombed compartments within, dressed with dripping gardens of wire and cable.

What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misbegotten march of middle age? were running past her, yelling and shooting and dying, their fates already written when the world began...All his pain and puzzlement, and the long sad story of who he was. The bed of rags and bundles under the roadway, and the sweat and soil of his skin and of his long journey; the great gleaming car stopping beside him with its grille of jeweled teeth, and the voice of the woman, calling out to him over the dirty roar of the world; the sweetness of mown grass and the sweating coolness of a glass of ice tea...

So maybe that's what his father had been doing all along, on the Long Rides. He'd been trying to remember the world.

It was just another case of the body's unreasonable demands upon the mind, and his dreams, when he cared to remember them, all seemed to be lightly retooled versions of his waking state--full of circuits and breakers and relays, a thousand problems to be solved, and he would waken feeling less restored than rudely shot forward in time, with no discernible accomplishments to show for those lost hours.

Then, just like that, the pressure on Theo's hand released--an absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.

The rusting ribs of the great ships, stretching as far as the eye could see. Never had he thought to wonder how this had come about. He had lived in a world without history, without cause, a world where things just were what they were. looking at lines on a page and suddenly seeing words written there.

A huge greasy bulk, connected by long trailing hoses to a pair of bulging fuel tanks, weeping with rust.

...and before long you didn't know which was which, if you were awake or asleep. Everything got blended together. A sensation like pain--only worse, because it wasn't a pain in your body; the pain was your mind and your mind was you. You were pain itself.


Have you read it? What did you think?

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