Friday, July 23, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

I really wanted to like this book. I read several reviews, lengthy interviews with the author in Book Pages, and heard other writers exclaiming over the quality of this hefty tome of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Everyone, it seems, was determined to add to the 'good buzz' of this novel. I ended up thinking it was the worst thing I've read this year, and a complete waste of time.
The author was quoted as saying he wrote it for and with his daughter, because she wanted a book with a young female heroine who would save the world.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but his daughter must have been disappointed, at the very least, because the girl from nowhere doesn't save the world, all she does is whine and cower for most of the book, and then she murmurs about how sad things are for the evil vampires, and oh, gee, she manages to push them back a couple of times, but does she eradicate them and save the world? No, she does not.
And herein lies my first disgruntlement with this book: the ending SUCKS, and not in a good way. There really isn't an ending to speak of, just a page from some report that says there was a massacre at Roswell, not mentioning WHO was massacred, the vampires or the walkers/uninfected people.
Then there's the writing, which I was told, by the enthusiastic blurbers and reviewers, was stellar and not to be missed! Honestly, the prose wasn't at all stellar, it was pedestrian and dull, for the most part, and at times it veered into the dead zone of BORING, slowing the plot to a crawl. The plot had major holes, and crept along in no discernible pattern, leaving the reader confused when he or she wasn't being bored to immobility.
Oh, and then there were the cliches and tropes that are the hallmark of lazy writers everywhere, the "military is evil, military scientists are the apex of evil, and anyone with money is automatically so evil they're bound to die in some horrible fashion that will be described in detail." Inevitably, the government is fully to blame, along with the military, of course, for the downfall of humanity, and religion is only for brain-dead schmucks who can't think for themselves any more than a cow can understand that they're destined to be dinner. Ugh. How ridiculous and stupid to go over these same cliches and not even attempt to break new ground--where is Mr Cronin's imagination, or originality? I can't imagine him telling his students at Rice University that they should always stick to the stereotype of the evil government military industrial complex! And those evil rich people! They're all doomed! Then there is the shine that the author adds to the 'simple' way of life of the folks who haven't been killed by the viral vampires let loose on America by the evil military scientists and the stupid prisoners who were brainwashed by the vamps.
That they have to scrounge for food and shoot their friends and relatives if they get bitten, or that they can barely keep the lights going because they are running out of batteries and energy to keep them on, that is only a small matter compared to the joy of farming and making babies at the earliest opportunity, so that they, too, can 'stand watch' and learn to kill vampires and their closest friends and relatives. But again, that is what most of the women are only good for--making babies and caring for the men in traditional roles, like nursing. The one woman who breaks out of that role only does so when she is given a mutated form of the virus so she can become a super soldier, and then it is made clear that one of the male protagonists thinks this is a horrible waste of a womb that he had designs on. Yes sexism and misogyny live in this book that was supposedly written for a young girl. I feel so sorry for this girl, if her father thinks portraying women in this light is a healthy thing for his daughter to read.
Amy, the immortal psychic girl who is given the virus when she's only 6 years old, seems fairly pathetic most of the time, and when she does do something, it is unclear whether she really gives a rats rump about her human companions at all...she seems too busy destroying the mutated virus (so none of the other humans can become super soldiers, so they don't stand a chance against the viral vampires) and whining about how sad the hideous, destructive vampires are because they can't remember who they were before they were infected. Boo hoo. I am supposed to have sympathy for rapists and murderers who are now killing all of humanity in a gruesome fashion?
Even when Amy actually tells them that they were death row inmates previously, that hardly slows them down, though they eventually destroy one group of vamps lead by a particularly noxious prisoner named Babcock who was sending everyone his 'dream' memory of murdering his abusive mother who is, of course, fat....because we couldn't have a novel without the stereotype of the evil fat woman, now could we? Because we all know that there are no evil thin people, right? Ugh. Again, sloppy, lazy writing, using a stereotype because you don't have the talent to do any better.
I kept waiting for Amy, or even the nun who saved her, (who is also immortal, because the evil scientist married her, turning her into a proper woman and slave so she could, eventually, 'help' Amy deal with those noxious vampires by blowing herself up)to come up with a plan to rid the world of these viral vampires that had killed off 90 percent of humanity and were no longer going to have anyone or anything to feed on because, apparently, their brains become dead when they become undead. But no, the author doesn't seem to think we need to know what happened, or whether humanity has survived, he just lets us down with a thunk at the end of the book. This novel was something like 800 pages long, and at least 300 of those pages could have easily been edited out without hurting the ridiculous story one iota.
As it was, there was a great deal of time wasted on nothing, on characters who didn't go anywhere or blathering on about the tensions of societies that are surrounded by the fear of death everyday. The thing is, Lord of the Flies covered that ground sufficiently a long time ago, and Cronin brings nothing new to the 'social experiment' theme at all, allowing for all the lynch mobs, the freaked out people who hang themselves and the children who lose their parents to cancer or viral vampires, but not really telling us anything new about the people left behind to deal with the aftermath of those horrors.
And speaking of horror, I was lead to believe that this was a science fiction thriller, when in reality, it is a poorly written horror novel. It reeks of doom, despair and depression. There isn't more than one or two bright spots to be had in the entire novel, and those are fleeting. If you aren't depressed by the end of The Passage, you must be on some very strong Prozac.
I can't recommend this novel to anyone, so I will just end by saying that unless you find horror, death, mayhem and bloodbaths fun, don't bother to pick up this overly large book. I just wish I were immortal enough to be able to get the hours I wasted reading it back.

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