The Passage by Justin Cronin

42 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

The Passage has been sitting on my bedside table for a full year. A friend suggested it last summer. I rushed right out and bought a copy at my local Walmart and proceeded to set it right there where I would see it and be sure to pick it up next. After finally determining that I would not in fact absorb the story by osmosis and that I could in fact spare the time for this big long tomb since it is once again summer, I plunged in.

I won’t lie to you. It’s a big long book. It took me some time to plow through it. I think I’ve been reading it for a couple of weeks. I’ve been reading other books too, but even so a couple of weeks is a long time for me. That’s a long term relationship with a book.

It was worth it. The Passage is actually the first book of a trilogy. The other two books have not yet been released. I’m somewhat relieved to hear this. I’m exhausted now and need the break until 2012 or 2014 or so before I tackle the next one.

Still, it was worth it.

This is a vampire story in case you haven’t heard about it already. I like that it isn’t the trashy sort of vampires-are-so-sexy book that is so popular right now. Vampires are clearly deadly here. I like that. I like my lines of demarcation. There’s also a bit of a science twist to the science fiction. The vampire is created by a virus, and the vampire apocalypse happens when the US military runs experiments on inmates in an attempt to create a super soldier. I like all that. I also like the characters and the story line. These are people I want to know more about. I want to find out what happens next.

What I don’t like is that the story is artificially dragged out way longer than it has to be. In the first place, the book is basically comprised of three separate — or what could be separate — novels. There is the story of the creation of Amy, a vampire/human hybrid who is long-lived but is not evil. There is the story of a colony of human survivors after North America has fallen to the vampires. And there is the story of the start of the final — or what we hope will be the final — war against the vampires. Those could have been chopped up and sold separately, and I might have been annoyed at having to pay more for them, but I would have felt better about taking so long to read them. Feeling better matters.

That’s not really my issue with the length, though. The story frequently switches point of view from one character to another, not just among two or three core characters, but among a large cast of characters. That in itself makes it a slower read because you’re frequently in need of regrouping to figure out who is telling the story. I was, at least. Also, Cronin doesn’t just switch point of view, he messes with the timeline and ends of repeating things we’ve already seen from another point of view. I could have lived without that. I know he thought it was artful to let us see one scene at different points in the narrative from different points of view, but to me it was just annoying. It just meant that it took a colossally long time to tell a story that would have been tighter and more intense at half the length.

I don’t like to harp on length. I don’t mind if a book is extra long if it needs to be that long. I just didn’t think this one needed to be that long. I’m not a slow reader, but I struggled to finish it even though I did find it interesting. Maybe something just wasn’t clicking for me in the writing style, or maybe Cronin tried too hard to engage in literary pretentiousness when he could have just told a story. This is, after all, just a vampire thriller.

To be fair, it might just be me. I adored Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, another vampire book of similar length. I wouldn’t say it didn’t engage in literary pretentiousness, but I thought the writing style there was a pure work of art. In The Passage, I thought the style was getting in the way of what could have been a great story. Most likely this is just a matter of personal taste.

That said, I beg of you, Justin Cronin, to please fall out of love with telling the same information from multiple points of view. I got it the first time, but if it takes you forever to tell it, I’ll forget it before I ever get to the end. I’m not taking notes. It’s my summer vacation. I’m sitting on my patio with your book and a glass of Crystal Light. I bought the lawn chair at Target and the flip-flops at the half-off counter at JC Penney. I don’t care if you think you can pull off something clever. I just want you to tell me a story.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.