After hearing wonderful praise for over a year, I finally found the time to read The Passage, a hefty tome by Justin Cronin that lived up to its buzz.
The Passage is an epic story, covering more than 100 years and several generations. It is post-apocalyptic, sci fi, thriller, and literary fiction about people and their relationships, all rolled into one. It reminded me in some ways of Stephen King’s The Stand, a distinguished comparison I don’t make lightly. King himself wrote a complimentary blurb on the back cover, so you know Cronin is a talented storyteller.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because this is a book with surprises and twists around every corner. Essentially, The Passage is about some secret government research gone wrong, involving a horrific virus that transforms its victims into something deadly and grotesque. The government was trying to tame the virus a bit, to create a group of super-soldiers, but their first test subjects escape and the virus is released onto the unsuspecting public.
The story is told from varying points of view, starting with the scientist who discovered the virus, a grieving FBI agent named Brad Wolgast, and an abandoned little girl named Amy. As I said, though, it is an epic, covering multiple generations and telling the story both before and after the apocalypse.
I have often heard The Passage described as a vampire book, but I think that is very misleading. I’m not much of a fan of vampire fiction generally (and have never even read Twilight). Although the “v” word is used once or twice in the book, the creatures created from the virus bear little resemblance to traditional vampires, other than their blood lust. There is no brooding moodiness here nor Hollywood-style romance. Rather, Cronin writes about real people dealing with some terrifying problems, with in-depth insight into what makes them tick.
Despite its almost-800 pages read over a 3-week period, The Passage easily kept my interest. In fact, I found myself flipping back to earlier pages, looking for clues and foreshadowing of what was to come, reminding myself of details of each character’s history. It is an original and compelling story. I came to care about the characters and what happened to them. I was pleased at the end when things were seeming to wrap up for them, with perhaps a happy ending…until the very last lines of the book when it became obvious there will be a sequel. I guess that’s OK, too because it means I can read more of Cronin’s wonderfully engaging writing.
759 pages, Ballantine Books