The Passage by Justin Cronin
This book is like the kids that do really well in school without even trying, and then have a hard time finding jobs as hotel desk clerks when they get into the real world. It has so much promise that it’s incredibly disappointing when it doesn’t deliver.
Everything in The Passage is unfinished. There’s always some spooky music and tense scene unfolding, but it always peters off into nothingness, into a change of scene, or into outright what-the-fuckery. The mood is set alright, but it’s set to confusion. Right from the very beginning: the action starts in the jungle and we’re given a hint of an ancient society but have no idea what it or we are doing there. To the very end: when we have to wonder what the hell the entire rest of the world has been doing for the last hundred years.
The story takes place both pre- and post-apocalypse, so it’s hard not to feel jerked around when the apocalypse itself suddenly dissolves to a narrative occurring 1000 years after the main event … and then five pages after that we’re “back” to 100 years after the main event. What’s worse is that the 1000 year future narrative is entirely composed of documents from the 100 year future narrative, a writing device that has no reason to exist except to deliver a HUGE fuck you on the very last page.
Post-apocalypse is the grandest theme, it’s the biggest place for a writer to go. Cronin dances on the edge of sci-fi eternity, but he always pulls back into sloppy exposition and hack writing techniques that won’t stand the test of time. Despite the vehemence of my review, I’m not angry that it’s a bad book, I’m angry that it’s a good book that could have been so much better. And that I know I’m going to pick up the sequels.
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear – of darkness, of death, or a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. Wolgast is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors, but for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey – spanning miles and decades – toward the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.