The Passage, by author Justin Cronin, is an engaging story that keeps one turning the pages well into the wee hours when one should be asleep. It is the first novel of a trilogy, and it plays its hand close to the vest. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand, Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, and AMC’s The Walking Dead, Cronin’s novel finds inspiration from these works but creates a story wholly original on its own. It melds the best aspects of these monumental fictions to create a post-apocalyptic world that is at once bleak while also betraying a certain illusion of hope out of utter despair simply by the appearance of one young girl and the hidden truths her existence reveals.
Cronin does not hold back on detail. His is a fully-realized world revealed to the reader one page at a time. The story is epic in scope but also intimate in its execution. Roughly, the first third of this first novel in the trilogy is given to what transpired to lead the country (if not the world) to its eventual downfall. Cronin takes his time, introducing us to Amy (the story’s heroine heir-apparent), the special agents sent to retrieve her for nefarious purposes disguised as necessary evils for the preservation of the human race—but also as an attempt to create an army of super soldiers for the nation’s military machine.
In those initial pages, we grow close to Amy and her rescuers before the world as we know it, as known to them, is abruptly thrown asunder. Civilization collapses, and the reader picks up the story some ninety years in the future where humanity is seemingly reduced to a small colony of survivors struggling to stay alive in this, the only world they have known. And that world is brutal and unforgiving. The colony is plagued by secret alliances among the founding families; there is a burgeoning distrust that only feeds the tragedies to come.
Some readers might be dissuaded by Cronin’s attention to detail, feeling the novels (or at least this first one, as I have yet to arrive at the subsequent entries in this trilogy) to be bloated and over-long. I would put forth that these readers are more familiar with quick, summer reads that are, at best, superficial stories written easy consumption and for story’s sake. For me, no scene in Cronin’s writing is taken as unnecessary. Successful world building should be a long and involved process. Moreover, such world building is best presented to the reader through small, brief glimpses of intimate settings that gradually unfold to reveal the larger world beyond. I, for one, am eager to see what horrors await our main characters and to discover the nightmares mankind’s hubris inflicted upon those caught up in this fictional account of the future.
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As for the television adaptation of The Passage, I have not settled on a verdict. After one episode, the greatest problems I see are found in pacing (the first episode covers nearly the first couple hundred pages of the novel) and the sanitization necessary for air on a network channel. In some ways, I feel the showrunners are reluctant to challenge the Fox censors. However, this is the same network that, in the nineties, was the home of a long-running series, The X-Files, that was far and away more visually visceral than The Passage. There was also Millennium (what Criminal Minds should have aspired to be), not to mention the corpses in Bones, where each week’s remains seemed intended to best the previous week and push the limits of the censors), a show focused on the apprehension of the worst kinds of serial killers (albeit with a supernatural element involved). Even NBC (a network likely to take fewer risks with regard to the depiction of the subject matter of its properties) had Hannibal, a televised series that was in many ways much more blatantly graphic than its cinematic inspirations, where the shows of violence were largely only hinted at in comparison.
I’ll give Fox’s adaptation a few more episodes to find its footing, but I suspect and am saddened by the fact it will likely be a show I eventually abandon.
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A more complete appraisal of The Passage and the rest of the trilogy will follow at the conclusion of their readings.