Monday, July 19, 2010

The Passage - It really is THAT good! (No Spoilers)

I don't do hype, and you know this, dear readers. Except this time I ignored the hype AND the fact that this is a 700+-page book AND I have a newborn at home. I swallowed the e-book pricetag even though I'm on a no-buying spree. I just did it. I jumped in. I ignored the fact that there are "vampires." And what did I get?

A truly worthwhile and stunning read. While some might be tempted to categorize Justin Cronin's The Passage as a science fiction book or a vampire book, what I found was a really nicely written and engrossing book that happened to have sci-fi elements and vampires in it. What I loved most were Cronin's characters and his (dare I say it) sweeping epic. How many cliches can I fit into once sentence? But it REALLY was a SWEEPING EPIC. I can't help it. It's beyond me to try to work around that description.

If you've been hiding in your attic and don't know what the book is about, here's my very short, super-condensed version:

The goverment wants to engineer superhuman killing machines or these "vampires" we keep hearing about. They screw up (surprise, surprise), and the 12 death row inmates they tested their virus on escape and kill the majority of humanity and make a whole bunch more vampires along the way. Oh, and the government tried this virus out on a six-year-old, too, but she was fine, if endowed with some weird/helpful powers. Shift forward nearly 100 years, and the reader is introduced to a community of people living, and avoiding the vampires, in California. They soon find out the batteries powering the lights that help keep the "virals" away are going to die, and an expedition begins to find a replacement for the batteries, and find out what's up with the weird little girl who showed up--unharmed--at their gates.

While this is a lighthearted summary, let it not diminish my message: this book was really, really good. I was swept away in this chunkster, and if I could've divorced eating, sleeping, and work, I would've finished it in two days.

Cronin's greatest strength is his characters. There are a LOT of characters both before and after the book's big time shift, and I never had a bit of trouble keeping up with who was who. He includes their backgrounds, and in many cases personal tragedies, and it made so many of them--no matter their actions throughout the book--incredibly sympathetic. The community in the latter portion of the book: Peter, Theo, Mausami, Alicia, Sara, Michael, Caleb, Hollis, Amy and others were just great. I wanted to kick some of them in the face occasionally, but I really cared deeply about all of them, and it was excruciating to read about their adventures and misadventures.

Cronin's vampires are not cheesy in the slightest. They drink blood and they're super strong, and that's where any traditional comparison to vampires ends. They are terrifying monsters with humans buried somewhere deep inside and the threat they posed to my beloved characters throughout the book was more than enough to make me hate them. Although, oddly, there were moments when Cronin was able to render them sympathetic as well. Weird.

As nicely written and richly developed as the book is, it is not without fault. I found some of Cronin's descriptions of action hard to follow. He has a writing style that rides the line between literary and...not. At times it was beautiful, raw, and a punch in the gut. When it came to action, though, I just wanted him to be straightforward. Instead of writing, Her body arced outward from the Humvee just give it to me straight. She nearly fell off and got her ass run over. It was frustrating to have to SLOW DOWN reading these portions, and at times I even had to re-read a couple of paragraphs. Maybe he did this to me on purpose, but either way, it ticked me off. It was a small price to pay, and in the long run it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book, but it made me "grrr" a few times.

I've said it before, and I'll say again: the highest compliment I can bestow upon any book is an emotional investment in the story. This one made me cry a few times, and not just at the end. I was seriously invested in these characters, and it's going to be painful to wait for the next book.

The Passage is one of my top reads for the year, no doubt. If you're on the fence about reading it, I certainly understand, but I would urge you to try it anyway. I can only hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Visit the website.

Note: I posted this sucker early due to a slip of the mouse, and it's already plooped into your readers, so I can't take it back. Just don't forget to read the Lucy Knisley interview below!

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