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Coming soon to this space my take on Justin Cronin’s The Passage, but we are having a helluva thunderstorm and I’m logging off for now….

If the lights go out, it will be so appropriate.

Ok, it’s two hours later, I’m back, and so’s the electricity. Made me think of the residents of First Colony in Cronin’s post-apocalyptic world, tending to their turbines but knowing they’re running on empty and it’s only a matter of time before the lights go out. And when the darkness descends, so will the smokes, the virals, the drinks, the flyers, the jumps, the sticks. Whatever you want to call them. Not vampires, though, as Auntie writes in her diary, remembering the Time Before, long ago when she was Ida Jaxson in Philadelphia, and her daddy “told me no, vampires were something in a made-up story, nice-looking men in suits and capes with good manners, and this here’s real, Ida.”

So real that Cronin spends the first quarter of his 800-page novel detailing how a secret military medical experiment on a dozen death-row inmates gets out of hand, leading to the end of civilization as we know it.  “It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”  (In the new one, the Gulf of Mexico is one massive oil slick. Like that could ever happen).

At the center of both worlds is a little girl named Amy, aka “the  Girl from Nowhere — the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years.”

The Passage covers only about a century, jumping from Year Zero of the virals (who are kind of like vampires, kind of like zombies, kind of like humans) to a hundred years or so later, when the world has been rapidly depopulated by the bloodthirsty, soul-sucking creatures of the night. Most people die, split asunder stem to stern on the spot. Others survive the infection only to succumb years later to bad dreams that get worse on waking.

The Passage has been lauded as an “unconventional vampire story.” Actually, it’s the most conventional of tales, drawing on any number of familiar genres and tropes from science fiction, westerns, horror, adventure, fantasy and world-building. It’s Stephen King’s The Stand meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road  meets Mad Max and I Am Legend and The X-Files. It mixes Michael Crichton with Margaret Atwood. It’s mostly harrowing and thrilling, but it’s also digressive, even plodding as Cronin heaps on the many characters’ back stories. But Cronin can really write, and every time I tried to put the book down, the darn thing kept calling me back to its brave weird world. (Cronin quotes Shakespeare and Katherine Anne Porter, among others, at the begining of each of the 11 sections.) I had to find out what was going on with the good FBI agent and the enigmatic nun, and Peter and Michael and Sarah and Lish and Theo and Maus, and Amy, especially, always Amy.

The Passage doesn’t so much end as stop for a pause in the action, which is kind of a let-down cliff-hanger. Two more volumes are in the works. Also a movie. Anyway,  it’s going to take me awhile to catch my breath and stop looking up at trees at night and hoping that fluttering whoosh is the neighborhood owl. Meanwhile, please keep the lights on.

Open Book: I purchased the digital version of  Justin Cronin’s The Passage and read it on Nanook, which is what I call my nook. I had to recharge the battery. There’s irony for you.

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