The Passage by Justin Cronin
Around the year 2015 or 2020, the United States government begins a new experiment, one aimed to ensure the pax Americana for many years to come. Instead of going through the expense and time of training soldiers just to have them die or be injured in the field, the military was hoping to find a way to modify soldiers to give them incredibly long lives and make them incredibly difficult to kill and injure. The secret seems to be in a virus discovered in the jungles of Bolivia. Of course, soldiers can’t just be injected with an unknown vaccine, so an arrangement is made to allow 12 Death Row inmates to keep their lives if they agree to be part of Project NOAH. Evidently nobody realized that a virus that causes immortality + convicted murderers = not good.
This background, along with the introduction of Amy and the first few years after BAD THINGS HAPPEN, comprise about the first 200 pages of the book. The next 560 pages take place about 100 years after the initial BAD THINGS, and are centered on a small enclave of survivors in what used to be California. I think this fact, that it takes 200 pages to get to the majority of the main characters, is a large part of the reason that “The Passage” lacked the necessary immediacy to be a great apocalyptic thriller.
That’s right, I said it was lacking and, therefore, not great. Minority opinion alert!
I know everyone loved this, but I just didn’t. I liked it, don’t get me wrong. The prose was competent at the worst and really quite lovely in some places. The idea of the story that Cronin created was also quite interesting. Mostly, the book was just way. too. long. Nearly 800 pages for the first book in a trilogy, I think it should have been 200-300 pages shorter. There were 450 pages in the middle during which nothing really grabbed me, and that’s not good. The excessive time it took me to be introduced to the main characters and the fairly uninteresting nature of the early part of their story kept me from really ever caring about them and, thus, detracted from the immediacy and fear that a book like this needs.
I might have been a little more tolerant of the book had a throwaway line early in the book about Jenna Bush being the governor of Texas been excluded. That sort of thing really annoys me, it is just trying much too hard to be clever and it seems very unsophisticated storytelling to me.
Overall a very interesting concept, but the execution left something to be desired – namely a strong editor. I will likely read the next two books in the series, but there’s no way I will be buying them in hardcover – I’ll wait for paperback or a copy from the library – and, honestly , I don’t think that you need to buy this one in hardcover either. If you don’t want to be left out of the discussion about it this summer, get on the library waitlist now.
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