Review of The Passage by Justin Cronin
by Justin Cronin
Ain’t nobody got time for vampire fiction masquerading as high-octane thrillers hidden behind too many characters and subplots.
I must have added The Passage to my to-read list back when it came out and received vaguely positive reviews from some quarters. To be sure, I can see why some people would like this. Justin Cronin writes with that pseudo-noir style that works well for certain types of thrillers: everyone in his books seems like a world-weary figure who is just tired of life chewing them up and spitting them out. But with vampires!
Little of what Cronin offers here is new. Vampirism-as-disease is a tired trope, as is the idea that the United States military (or any military) would be dumb enough to try to study such a dangerous phenomenon for gain. FBI agent haunted by the past? Check. Need to protect an innocent but creepy child? Check.
And maybe if this book were three hundred pages shorter I might be down with it. As it was, less than a hundred pages in, I just did not want to continue reading. When I start making excuses to not read, it’s not because I don’t want to read—it’s because I don’t like the book I’m reading.
For me, the main issue is the sheer density and number of characters with all their backstories and incidental histories. I have an increasingly diminished tolerance for this as I get older. The one possible exception might be The Count of Monte Cristo—but I feel like Dumas justifies that, somewhat, because we need to understand where these characters are coming from in order to understand just how perfectly Dantes gets his revenge. In Cronin’s case, I’m just not interested in every minor character’s origins. So many people, so many names—it’s like an A Song of Ice and Fire novel, except with not as much death. Or dragons. But with vampires!
So here I was, less than one hundred pages in, just getting to the part with the actual “vampires.” I felt like I was an hour into an action movie without anything exploding. And that’s it: that’s my only real complaint, that this book moved too slowly. I’m not sticking it out to find out what happens next, who lives and who dies, and whether the pace picks up. If you do, all the more power to you. The Passage is not bad, not necessarily even poorly written or edited—but it was not satiating my reading appetite, so I’ve set it aside for more palatable fare.