Literary Things: The Passage

Hey everyone! Ben here. I need a favor– and it may be slightly shady. I’m looking for the address of one Justin Cronin. He’s 5-something with a shock of brown hair, 40 or so years old, teaches English at Rice University,  takes his daughter on bike rides through the neighborhood and has, you know, backyard barbeques or something.  He and I both live in the greater Houston area, and considering that nearly 6 million people dwell here, that’s a lot of doors to knock on until I find him. And I’ve got to find him– I’ve got to know how it ends! It’s supremely important that I know how it ends.

This is the author, should it help you locate him. (Photo credit: Andrew Crowley, The Telepgraph).

“It,”of course, is Cronin’s in-progress post-apocalyptic trilogy that commenced with The Passage, a 2010 novel that inspired a crazy Hollywood bidding war. It’s important that you know this book for a multitude of reasons. And maybe then, you can understand my mania here.

The first piece of the puzzle is that The Passage isn’t just a beach read– though you’d never think that while you’re in the thick of it. It’s engrossing, and a lot of that comes from the pedigree that Cronin brings to the table. This is a Harvard-educated author of literary fiction (and scoff if you will, but Cronin won the PEN/Hemmingway award for his first book, which is no small feat) who was prompted to turn to genre fiction after a conversation with his young daughter of the afore-mentioned bike rides. If you’ve ever read Michael Chabon, you’ll know that this is a good thing. The conversation went something like this:

The Author: “So sweetheart, why don’t you give me two things you want to see in our next book.”

His Daughter: “Um, I dunno.”

The Author: “Come on, sweetheart. Think about the other stories I’ve written. What’s something new we can try?”

His Daughter: “Well, Dad, your other books have all been kinda… boring.”

The Author: (Laughs) “Well, what do you think we should do, then?”

His Daughter: “Write a book about a girl who saves the world. One who has red hair.”

This girl is Amy Harper Bellafonte, who the book informs us at the outset will live for a thousand years, and indeed, will save the world. Amy is born into a paranoid America where terrorist bombings have become commonplace and military checkpoints are positioned along most major highways and interstates. The Military complex realizes that in a world where war is the order of the day, our soldiers need to be harder. Better. Faster. Stronger, even.

It’s serendipitous, however, when a group of cancer patients return from a Make-A-Wish trip to South America seemingly cured. The source of the cure? Bwa-ha-ha-ha:

It’s vampire bats.

And the military using bat DNA to regenerate soldiers or cure cancer? You know where this is going.

Which brings us to another reason you need to know this book: it offers vampires for dudes. Scary vampires, of which we currently lack proper representation. I mean, if you’re in the market for sensual vampires, you’re covered. But if you’re in the market for hypo-thyroidal creatures with knives for teeth and faces that look like that creepy Nosferatu child from Weekly World News? You’ve been waiting for The Passage.

This face also counts. Good Lord– I’m never watching Salem’s Lot.

Amy’s about the only character I can talk to you about without spoiling the book, though, because this thing has SCOPE. It’s widescreen, with lots of complex and compelling individuals that show up and get mowed down in frightening order. This is the story of the Vampire Apocalypse– think the tension of the first thirty minutes of Will Smith’s I Am Legend combined with the adventure of The Stand and the hopeless backdrop of The Road, and you’ll get a sense of what this book successfully does for nigh 1,000 pages.

Nothing’s wasted, though. Sentences either advance action or reveal character– we don’t do a ton of navel-gazing here. There are love triangles, an epic journey, a doomed last stand of human survivors, and in a bit of the self-mythologizing Texans are infamous for, a key role for the city of Galveston. A few folks even get super-powers.

That last part lends itself to the only major drawback in the book: Cronin has to balance the precise mechanism of a genre plot with super-believable characters. Here you find the suspension of disbelief necessary to a post-apocalyptic tale fighting with the nigh-reality of the individuals that populate it. One promise in particular becomes awfully convenient at a late point in the story. But then again, if you’re picking up a book about the Vampire Apocalypse, you’re not expecting much more than a funky, brainless ride. The Passage obliterates that notion, then leaves you gasping for more, more, more with a damning last sentence delivered in the cold tone of an academic report.

If you’ve not found enough reasons here, please help yourself to The First Chapter, which is a masterclass in how to begin a story. But get started soon, and here’s why:

Book Two comes out in a month and a half.

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About Ben Humeniuk
Married to Christin, dad of two, follower of Christ. I'm an educator and a cartoonist. And I'm going to encourage us to understand.

One Response to Literary Things: The Passage

  1. Pingback: Top Things 10/01 « Tellurian Things

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