Guest review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Bringing you another book review by Sarah Collins Honenberger:

The Passage by Justin CroninThe summer blockbuster The Passage by Justin Cronin was not on my to-read list. After I discovered Cronin this past spring and his stunning first novel Mary & O’Neil, I recommended him at all my book events. His second novel, The Summer Guest, brought back my New England summers in high relief.  I never connected his name with the news headline that a huge advance had been paid for yet another vampire book.  But when it turned out he was the author of the new ‘blood-thirsty paranormal,’ I knew I’d have to read it to clinch the idea that he’d sold out, a personal dare that he couldn’t convert a die-hard literary fiction reader with something so . . . mainstream.

The Passage starts off with an old story line; poor girl slips into bad relationship and her dreams are dashed. Against all odds she leaves, with child in tow, only to slide further into desperation and tragedy, the predictable prostitution and abuse. Yet, despite the reluctant reader I was, Cronin dragged me into his apocalyptic tale with his generous and insightful portrayal of characters and a suspenseful and complicated plot. By chapter two I was hooked, riding shotgun with the government agents recruiting death row inmates to a drug trial to end all drug trials. The author’s masterful weave of people and events carries you into an ash-covered world of isolation and mystery, love found and lost, loyalties questioned and recovered, such that 700 pages later you’re not sure who are the bad guys or the good guys, but you don’t want it to end. Cronin has the solution to that too. The Passage is the first in a trilogy.

While the survivors in The Passage are not the same kind of close friends who break your heart in Cronin’s first two novels, none are the stereotypes of action movies. Cronin explores their emotions and doubts in between each terrifying attack of the virals and at every discovery of yet another obstacle to safety.  You will look over your shoulder.

Sarah Collins Honenberger, author of award-winning Waltzing Cowboys and forthcoming novel Catcher, Caught (AE, Dec. 28, 2010)

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