Book Review: The Passage – Justin Cronin

Passage-smallWhen you pick up the hardcover edition of The Passage by Justin Cronin, you know you are not going to be able to take this one everywhere you go.  It’s huge.  It’s heavy.  It’s Stephen King-sized.  And in a lot of ways, it’s very reminiscent of King’s The Stand.  Though I have not read The Stand in twenty years, it still does occupy a haloed place on my bookshelf because it was one of those books that inspired me to become a writer.

The Passage is an epic tale, spanning almost a hundred years.  It’s a great story, with a great premise, a lot of characters and a lot of sub plots that are woven together to tell Cronin’s pre- and post-apocalyptic tale.  The US Army has created a race of beings, “virals”, to be the ultimate fighting soldier.  But these soldiers cannot be controlled, and when they escape, only a select few in the world will survive the catastrophe.

I liked this book.  But I could have liked it more.  Perhaps the sheer size of it (767 pages) caused too much reader fatigue, and the fact that it took me a few weeks to read the whole thing because I have been otherwise occupied threw off the pace a bit.  But part of it was Cronin’s prosaic style.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a good writer.  But some of the sentences made me wince, and cry out in frustration.  They included a semi-colon, a parenthetical with another semi-colon, and then a colon.  All in one sentence.  Some sentences included half a dozen semi-colons, and a dozen commas.  I’m sure every one of  those sentences was perfect in its grammar and structure, but they were agonizing to read because my eyes had to continually skip back to reread sentences to figure out what the original concept was.  That destroys the flow of the story, and causes me to start skimming.  As a writer, I know that when the reader starts to skim, the editor should have done a little more editing.

The other issue is the sheer number of characters in the second third of the book make things a little difficult to track.  Every one of them turns out to be essential to the intricate plot, but you almost need to make notes to follow them all.  If you aren’t truly focused, you might miss something, and again have to go back to reread.

All indications are that Cronin is going to make a fortune off this book, the movie rights, and the sequels that are already planned and in production.  I am looking forward to the sequel, though I do hope it is a bit shorter than the first book.  I may even buy an e-reader just so I don’t have to lug it around if it isn’t. 

If you enjoy big, epic, post-apocalyptic tales, you’ll like The Passage.  If you want a light, quick read, this might not be the book for you.  I liked it, but I didn’t like all of it.  Be prepared to do some work, but it will make you think about it after you are done.

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