Friday, July 8, 2011

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

I have a confession to make. This book just irritated me. No, scratch that: I hated it. Why? Because it had no purpose. Maybe I’m just too stupid to comprehend it. If I was, I wouldn’t know. But I waited for hundreds upon hundreds of pages for Cronin to get to it, to make some kind of point with this avalanche of words, and it never came. It was a huge disappointment to me, just the prototypical template for postmodern futility. I’m over all that bullshit; it’s so been done. Art is meant to have a purpose in the life of the beholder these days. Novels are meant to pose universal questions and then answer them. It’s like this story was written by a roll of the dice; it’s insufferably random and not even the title makes any sense at all.

I originally borrowed this book from the library quite a while ago, returning it after a few pages. Call me capricious. Call me an acquisitions editor; call me jaded and predisposed to judge a manuscript by its first three chapters. Or pages, as the case may be. In other words, it just didn’t grab me by the collar and make me beg for more. I don’t mind being manhandled by a book from time to time; in fact I rather enjoy it. I guess I should have stuck with my gut.

I read The Passage on the recommendation of my brother, a voracious reader in his own right. He’s more into Sci Fi and L. Ron Hubbard and the like, whereas I’m into dictionaries and literature. Anyway I trust his judgment and he said it was really good, so I acquiesced and took home with me the paperback that he lent.

And right off the bat I have to say this: there wasn’t a single time that I sat stupefied by some example of glorious prose, lowering the book in reflective semi-awe as I soaked in the spell of profundity that some authors are gifted enough to provide. This book didn’t deliver that to me. It’s just that the book happened, sort of. It just ambled along in front of me, and I followed along obediently behind its clumsy cow-like hindquarters, both expecting and hoping for more, at some point.

To add to my irritation, Cronin seems to be particularly fond of two words: “thrum” and “spangled.” He uses them quite often, veering dangerously close to overuse. I’d think maybe twice each in a book of this size (enormous) would be sufficient, personally, but they kept popping up, like curious plants that are interesting the first couple of times they’re encountered, but eventually become annoying and are prime candidates for being rooted out. I would have expected a professor of English at a major university to have a better handle on it. That may sound harsh, but hello, wouldn’t we expect a petroleum engineer to be an expert in his field?

You know what else? Whenever I turned a corner in the book and started to get into the story again, a blaring phrase in passive voice would pop up and scare the bejeezus out of me—never mind the “virals” (the primary antagonists in the story). I mean, if the characters walk into a room that “appeared to be like a garage,” for instance, just tell it to me like it is! Tell me that they walked into a freakin garage! Not that it appeared to be like a garage. See how irritating that is? And wow, is this a long read. It just does…not…end.

Was I supposed to be scared? Okay, a few times I was, but that was when I was bedding down after spending the day reading it. Normal and passing. Given the subject matter, would I have liked to have been more scared? Well yeah. Yet again, it didn’t reach out and yank my chain. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and I know how these things are made, but the book wasn’t a thriller—not for me. It was a future-shock post-apocalyptic Mad Max-meets-Dracula kind of hybrid, and I wasn’t into it. Why? Because it’s not really original. It’s a rewarmed rehash of all kinds of stuff that’s already been done.

The world really didn’t need another vampire novel anyway, especially one this badly executed.
The Passage, with its innumerable faults, its many plotlines left adrift and wandering, and the mildly repugnant nature of its entirety, is nothing I can recommend to anyone. If this is the kind of stuff the Big Six are investing in, no wonder we're seeing the rise of the Indie Author/Publisher. 

No comments:

Post a Comment