08 January 2011
Post 287: The Passage
One of the things I liked most about this novel is that Cronin doesn't feel the need to stick with characters once their contributions to the story are over. This is kind of a problem with many narratives told in third person. Yes, the third person narrator is great because it can be omnipotent, but does it really need to be? Fantasy seems to suffer most from this predicament. I don't know if authors feel we become totally invested in the lives of every single character, and therefore need to know the end narrative of all of the characters, or if fantasy writers just really enjoy neat little bundles tied up with string.
Oh sure, this book follows a lot of characters. In fact, there is a century's worth. In the second part of the book, we meet a whole community of them, with about 20 being worthy of names and individual traits, but Cronin seems to know when to let them go on living off screen. I liked that. It allowed my mind to wonder and worry about those characters I only got brief hints of, but who obviously had loves and hates and fears and hopes for the future. It felt like the story was a stone or maybe a set of stones, and anywhere from one to three characters had a stone at any given time. Whoever had the stone was the person whose narrative we followed. Once they left a place, we didn't see that place again. Once someone parted company from the stone-carrier, we lost all knowledge of that person unless they had a stone of their own.
It worked. It worked really well. I didn't need to know what was happening to Amy during the 90 or so years she wasn't involved in the story. It wasn't important. I was curious about it, but I feel that Cronin filled in missing details where they were necessary, rather than throwing them in just because they were interesting. Besides, there are two other books to this series, so I imagine we'll get more back story, if and when it is necessary.
I really have to hand it to Cronin, this technique worked perfectly for his story. It managed to create a sense of uncertainty about what was happening in a very uncertain world. I don't think it would have held the same tone if we were constantly being given peeks at what was happening to the people that were left behind so that the others could hopefully find a way to change the world. It rang more true than having someone pop in with a scene about little Jimmy and how he gasped his last breath as blah, blah, blah. We're done with Jimmy, it doesn't really matter to the story if he lives or dies anymore, leave him, his story is done. And so is this post, good day, sir!
There is a great video interview with Justin Cronin and librarian Nancy Pearl. It's on the longish side, but if you've already read the book or are thinking about it, this will help you enjoy it even more. Since this has so much hype, here is a review with trepidation from The Word Zombie. I thought it only appropriate to include a positive (but still pointing out flaws), if very detailed review from Love Vampires, no spoilers though; they talk about theme, character, character development, plot development, etc.
LibsNote: Copy from the library.