Saturday, February 3, 2018

When Books Weigh as much as Cats

The Passage

(Originally read on October 24, 2015)

Is this literary fiction?  Genre fiction?  Action? Adventure? Sci Fi? Horror? Don't worry, no one else knows either!

What I do know is that it's a new all-time favorite of mine.  Yes, it probably weighs more than my cat.  Yes, I have a 20-pound cat.  Yes, there are thousands of small details that don't "need" to be there.  Yes, it gets a little heavy handed with religious parallels.  Yes, it's very much in the spirit of Stephen King's The Stand.  It doesn't matter.  None of that stuff matters when you have a knock-out premise, a set of characters who are genuine people, who take actions consistent with what you know about them, and an author who knows how to pace his plot.

I've read a lot of long books recently, but I don't think any of them put their length to this good of a use, i.e., taking the time to create believable back stories and thought processes for all of the characters involved.  Don't get me wrong, there are probably hundreds of characters in this book and some do serve as place holders, more or less.  But to have dozens of people explored in this much detail, well, I don't get that very often.  

The first section describes the military-experiment-gone-wrong that destroys life in North America as as we know it, and those chapters are just beyond gripping.  Then we get to the First Colony one hundred years later, the tiny outpost of 94 souls under dying lights ... and well, I'm always a sucker for humanity on its last legs, and this part blew me away.  Then everything goes to hell, and the tension ratchets consistently to the end.  Well done, well done.

I keep fumbling around at the edges of why I like this book so much and feel like I'm not getting at the heart of it.  But now that I've thought about it for a few days, I think it might be based on how deeply a story draws you in.  How well you can submerge yourself into it.  It's suspense, of course, but also points of beauty and humanity and reflections and moods and settings.  Like, there's a trail (the plot) and the book should make you want to walk along it.  Plenty of times, you take the trail and its flat and boring and you get to the end and all you can say is that you got some exercise.  But the good trails go up to great views (the ending), and the best have points of constant interest along the way: maybe a waterfall, cool rocks, lots of wildflowers, some deer grazing, birdsong.  The Passage makes a fantastic trail.   

Final Call: 

If you like this, try:
The Stand, by Stephen King, because you really just should read this.

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