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The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy) [Hardcover]

Justin Cronin
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,673 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2010: You don't have to be a fan of vampire fiction to be enthralled by The Passage, Justin Cronin's blazing new novel. Cronin is a remarkable storyteller (just ask adoring fans of his award-winning Mary and O'Neil), whose gorgeous writing brings depth and vitality to this ambitious epic about a virus that nearly destroys the world, and a six-year-old girl who holds the key to bringing it back. The Passage takes readers on a journey from the early days of the virus to the aftermath of the destruction, where packs of hungry infected scour the razed, charred cities looking for food, and the survivors eke out a bleak, brutal existence shadowed by fear. Cronin doesn't shy away from identifying his "virals" as vampires. But, these are not sexy, angsty vampires (you won’t be seeing "Team Babcock" t-shirts any time soon), and they are not old-school, evil Nosferatus, either. These are a creation all Cronin's own--hairless, insectile, glow-in-the-dark mutations who are inextricably linked to their makers and the one girl who could destroy them all. A huge departure from Cronin's first two novels, The Passage is a grand mashup of literary and supernatural, a stunning beginning to a trilogy that is sure to dazzle readers of both genres. --Daphne Durham

Dan Chaon Reviews The Passage

Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Await Your Reply and You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Chaon lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College. Read his review of The Passage:

There is a particular kind of reading experience--the feeling you get when you can’t wait to find out what happens next, you can’t turn the pages fast enough, and yet at the same time you are so engaged in the world of the story and the characters, you don’t want it to end. It’s a rare and complex feeling--that plot urgency pulling you forward, that yearning for more holding you back. We say that we are swept up, that we are taken away. Perhaps this effect is one of the true magic tricks that literature can offer to us, and yet it doesn’t happen very often. Mostly, I think, we remember this experience from a few of the beloved books of our childhood.

About three-quarters of the way through The Passage, I found myself in the grip of that peculiar and intense readerly emotion. One part of my brain couldn’t wait to get to the next big revelation, and I found myself wanting to leapfrog from paragraph to paragraph, hurtling toward each looming climax. Meanwhile, another part of my brain was watching the dwindling final pages with dread, knowing that things would be over soon, and wishing to linger with each sentence and character a little while longer.

Finishing The Passage for the first time, I didn’t bother to put it on a shelf, because I knew I would be flipping back through its pages again the next day. Rereading. Considering.

Certain kinds of books draw us into the lives of their characters, into their inner thoughts, to the extent that we seem to know them, as well as we know real people. Readers of Justin Cronin’s earlier books, Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest, will recognize him as an extraordinarily insightful chronicler of the ways in which people maneuver through the past, and through loss, grief and love. Though The Passage is a different sort of book, Cronin hasn’t lost his skill for creating deeply moving character portraits. Throughout, in moments both large and small, readers will find the kind of complicated and heartfelt relationships that Cronin has made his specialty. Though the cast of characters is large, they are never mere pawns. The individual lives are brought to us with a vivid tenderness, and at the center of the story is not only vampires and gun battles but also quite simply a quiet meditation on the love of a man for his adopted daughter. As a fan of Cronin’s earlier work, I found it exciting to see him developing these thoughtful character studies in an entirely different context.

There are also certain kinds of books expand outwards beyond the borders of their covers. They make us wish for encyclopedias and maps, genealogies and indexes, appendixes that detail the adventures of the minor characters we loved but only briefly glimpsed. The Passage is that kind of book, too. There is a dense web of mythology and mystery that roots itself into your brain--even as you are turning the pages as quickly as you can. Complex secrets and untold stories peer out from the edges of the plot in a way that fires the imagination, so that the world of the novel seems to extend outwards, a whole universe--parts of which we glimpse in great detail--and yet we long to know even more. I hope it won’t be saying too much to say that there are actually two universes in this novel, one overlapping the other: there is the world before the virus, and the world after, and one of the pleasures of the book is the way that those two worlds play off one another, each one twisting off into a garden of forking and intertwined paths. I think, for example, of the scientist Jonas Lear, and his journey to a fabled site in the jungles of Bolivia where clouds of bats descend upon his team of researchers; or the little girl, Amy, whose trip to the zoo sets the animals into a frenzy--"They know what I am," she says; or one of the men in Dr. Lear’s experiment, Subject Zero, monitored in his cell as he hangs "like some kind of giant insect in the shadows." These characters and images weave their way through the story in different forms, recurring like icons, and there are threads to be connected, and threads we cannot quite connect--yet. And I hope that there will be some questions that will not be solved at all, that will just exist, as the universe of The Passage takes on a strange, uncanny life of its own.

It takes two different kinds of books to work a reader up into that hypnotic, swept away feeling. The author needs to create both a deep intimacy with the characters, and an expansive, strange-but-familiar universe that we can be immersed in. The Passage is one of those rare books that has both these elements. I envy those readers who are about to experience it for the first time.


Danielle Trussoni Reviews The Passage

Danielle Trussoni is the author of Falling Through the Earth: A Memoir, which was the recipient of the 2006 Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, a BookSense pick, and one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of 2006. Her first novel Angelology will be published in 30 countries. Read her review of The Passage:

Justin Cronin’s The Passage is a dark morality tale of just how frightening things can become when humanity transgresses the laws of nature.

The author of two previous novels, Cronin, in his third book, imagines the catastrophic possibilities of a vampiric bat virus unleashed upon the world. Discovered by the U.S. Military in South America, the virus is transported to a laboratory in the Colorado mountains where it is engineered to create a more invincible soldier. The virus’ potential benefits are profound: it has the power to make human beings immortal and indestructible. Yet, like Prometheus’ theft of fire from the Gods, knowledge and technological advancement are gained at great price: After the introduction of the virus into the human blood pool, it becomes clear that there will be hell to pay. The guinea pigs of the NOAH experiment, twelve men condemned to die on death row, become a superhuman race of vampire-like creatures called Virals. Soon, the population of the earth is either dead or infected, their minds controlled telepathically by the Virals. As most of human civilization has been wiped out by the Virals, the few surviving humans create settlements and live off the land with a fortitude the pilgrims would have admired. Only Amy, an abandoned little girl who becomes a mystical antidote to the creatures’ powers, will be able to save the world.

The Passage is no quick read, but a sweeping dystopian epic that will utterly transport one to another world, a place both haunting and horrifying to contemplate. Cronin weaves together multiple story lines that build into a journey spanning one hundred years and nearly 800 pages. While vampire lore lurks in the background--the Virals nick necks in order to infect humans, are immortal and virtually indestructible, and do most of their hunting at night--Cronin is more interested in creating an apocalyptic vision along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Taking place in a futuristic America where New Orleans is a military zone, Jenna Bush is the Governor of Texas and citizens are under surveillance, The Passage offers a gruesome and twisted version of reality, a terrifying dream world in which our very worst nightmares come true. Ultimately, like the best fiction, The Passage explores what it means to be human in the face of overwhelming adversity. The thrill comes with the knowledge that Amy and the Virals must face off in a grand battle for the fate of humanity.


Questions for Justin Cronin

Q: What is The Passage?
A: A passage is, of course, a journey, and the novel is made up of journeys. But the notion of a journey in the novel, and indeed in the whole trilogy, is also metaphoric. A passage is a transition from one state or condition to another. The world itself makes such a transition in the book. So do all the characters—as characters in a novel must. The title is also a reference to the soul’s passage from life to death, and whatever lies in that unknown realm. Time and time again I’ve heard it, and in my own life, witnessed it: people at the end of life want to go home. It is a literal longing, I think, to leave this world while in a place of meaning, among familiar things and faces. But it is also a celestial longing.

Q: You are a PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author of literary fiction. Does The Passage represent a departure for you?
A: I think it’d be a little silly of me not to acknowledge that The Passage is, in a number of ways, overtly different from my other books. But rather than calling it a ‘departure,’ I’d prefer to describe it as a progression or evolution. First of all, the themes that engage me as a person and a writer are all still present. Love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, courage. The bonds between people, parents and children especially. The pull of history, and the power of place, of landscape, to shape experience. And I don’t think the writing itself is different at all. How could it be? You write how you write.

Q: The Passage takes place all across America--from Philadelphia to Houston to southern California. What prompted you to choose these specific locations?
A: Many of the major locations in the novel are, in fact, places I have lived. Except for a long stint in Philadelphia, and now Houston, my life has been a bit nomadic. I was raised in the Northeast, but after college, I ping-ponged all over the country for a while. In some ways, shaking off my strictly Northeastern point of view has been the central project of my adult life. This gave me not only a sense of the sheer immensity of the continent, but also the great diversity of its textures, both geographical and cultural, and I wanted the book to capture this feeling of vastness, especially when the narrative jumps forward a hundred years and the continent has become depopulated. One of the most striking impressions of my travels across the country is how empty a lot of it is. You can pull off the road in Kansas or Nevada or Utah or Texas and stand in the quiet with only the wind for company and it seems as if civilization has already ended, that you’re all alone on the planet. It’s a wonderful and a terrifying feeling at the same time, and while I was writing the book, I decided I would travel every mile my characters did, in order to capture not only the details of place, but the feeling of place.

The writer Charles Baxter once said (more or less) that you know you’ve come to the end of a story when you’ve found a way to get your characters back to where they started. The end of The Passage is meant to create another beginning, and the space for book two to unfold.

Q: Your daughter was the spark that set your writing of The Passage in motion. What else drove you to delve into such an epic undertaking?
A: The other force at work was something more personal and writerly. One of the reasons that the story of The Passage had such a magnetic effect on me was that I felt myself reclaiming the impulses that led me to become a writer in the first place. Like my daughter, I was a big reader as a kid. I lived in the country, with no other kids around, and spent most of my childhood either with my nose in a book or wandering around the woods with my head in some imagined narrative or another. It was much later, of course, that I formally became a student of literature, and decided that writing was something I wanted to do professionally. But the groundwork was all laid back then, reading with a flashlight under the covers.

Q: Did you have the narrative completely mapped out before you started, or did certain developments take you by surprise?
A: I had it mostly mapped out, but the book is in charge. I split and recombined some characters (mostly secondary ones.) I tend to think in terms of general narrative goals; the details work themselves out as you go, just so long as you remember the destination. And to that extent, the book followed the map I made with my daughter quite closely.

Q: When will we get to read the next book?
A: Two years (fingers wishfully crossed).



From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Fans of vampire fiction who are bored by the endless hordes of sensitive, misunderstood Byronesque bloodsuckers will revel in Cronin's engrossingly horrific account of a post-apocalyptic America overrun by the gruesome reality behind the wish-fulfillment fantasies. When a secret project to create a super-soldier backfires, a virus leads to a plague of vampiric revenants that wipes out most of the population. One of the few bands of survivors is the Colony, a FEMA-established island of safety bunkered behind massive banks of lights that repel the virals, or dracs—but a small group realizes that the aging technological defenses will soon fail. When members of the Colony find a young girl, Amy, living outside their enclave, they realize that Amy shares the virals' agelessness, but not the virals' mindless hunger, and they embark on a search to find answers to her condition. PEN/Hemingway Award–winner Cronin (The Summer Guest) uses a number of tropes that may be overly familiar to genre fans, but he manages to engage the reader with a sweeping epic style. The first of a proposed trilogy, it's already under development by director Ripley Scott and the subject of much publicity buzz (Retail Nation, Mar. 15). (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

What's not to like? was the general consensus among reviewers, who found Cronin's massive tome excessively entertaining. In a startling departure from his earlier work, Cronin has crafted an apocalyptic thrill ride filled with fantastic action sequences and brilliant characterizations. And the writing is memorable as well; the Onion AV Club noted that, "[w]hole sections of The Passage could be plucked out of the book and inserted into a Best New Horror anthology." Ultimately, The Passage is certain to keep readers enthralled and excited for the next installment--an amazing feat, considering the novel's length.

From Booklist

In this apocalyptic epic that begins in a gloomy near-future, gasoline is $13 a gallon; New Orleans has become an uninhabitable, toxic swamp after a series of devastating hurricanes; the U.S. is steadily losing the war on terror; and the future of humanity hinges on the actions of a young girl. Six-year-old Amy Harper Bellafonte, abandoned to the care of Memphis nuns by her prostitute mother, and her protector, disillusioned FBI agent Brad Wolgast, are at the epicenter of a battle to preserve the human species after a government military experiment to create a “super-soldier” goes awry. Using an exotic virus found deep in the South American jungle, scientists have discovered that it has the ability to bestow vast strength and instantaneous healing abilities on humans, with one serious side effect: it turns its victims into bloodthirsty (literally) monsters. This door-stopper of a novel is such an homage to Stephen King’s The Stand (in length as well as plot), along with Firestarter and even Salem’s Lot, that it required some fact-checking to ascertain it was not written under a new King pseudonym. Expect a lot of interest in this title, as the publisher intends a massive publicity blitz, including national advertising, online promotions (including a special Web site and sweepstakes), and an author tour. --Michael Gannon

Review

 “Cronin has given us what could be the best book of the summer. Don't wait to dive into The Passage.”—USA Today

“Cronin’s unguessable plot and appealing characters will seize your heart and mind.”—Parade

“Great storytelling … vital, tender, and compelling” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“A blockbuster…astutely plotted and imaginative”—The New York Times Book Review

“Cronin gets it just right; the combination of attentive realism and doomsday stakes makes for a mesmerizing experience.”—Salon.com

“We’ve just found our summer escape!”—Elle, “Top 10 Summer Books for 2010”

“Magnificently unnerving…A The Stand-meets-The Road journey.”—Entertainment Weekly, A-

“Addictive, terrifying, and deeply satisfying. Not only is this one of the year's best thrillers; it's one of the best of the past decade - maybe one of the best ever."—Men’s Journal

“A literary richness that rivals Stephen King’s The Stand.”—Time

“Fans of vampire fiction who are bored by the endless hordes of sensitive, misunderstood Byronesque bloodsuckers will revel in Cronin’s engrossingly horrific account of a postapocalyptic American overrun by the gruesome reality behind the wish-fulfillment fantasies…manages to engage the reader with a sweeping epic style.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review and “Pick of the week”)

“Literary author Cronin turns in an apocalyptic thriller in the spirit of Stephen King or Michael Crichton....The young girl as heroine and role model is a nice touch.”—Kirkus

“[An] apocalyptic epic…Expect a lot of interest in this title.” —Booklist

“The monsters in this compulsive nail biter are the scariest in fiction since Stephen King's vampires in Salem's Lot...This exceptional thriller should be one of the most popular novels this year and will draw in readers everywhere.”–Library Journal, starred review  

“Meet what is likely to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer.”—People

“Imagine Michael Crichton crossbreeding Stephen King’s “The Stand” and “Salem’s Lot” in that lab on Jurassic Park, with rich infusions of Robert McCammon’s “Swan Song,” “Battlestar Galactica” and even Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.””
The Washington Post

About the Author

Born and raised in New England, Justin Cronin is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Awards for his fiction include the Stephen Crane Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He is a professor of English at Rice University and lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Wolgast had been to the Compound only once, the previous summer, to meet with Colonel Sykes.  Not a job interview, exactly; it had been made clear to Wolgast that the assignment was his if he wanted it.  A pair of soldiers drove him in a van with blacked out windows, but Wolgast could tell they were taking him west from Denver, into the mountains.   The drive took six hours, and by the time they pulled into the Compound, he’d actually managed to fall asleep.  He stepped from the van into the bright sunshine of a summer afternoon.  He stretched and looked around.   From the topography, he’d have guessed he was somewhere around Telluride.  It could have been further north.  The air felt thin and clean in his lungs; he felt the dull throb of a high-altitude headache at the top of his skull. 

He was met in the parking lot by a civilian, a compact man dressed in jeans and a khaki shirt rolled at the sleeves, a pair of old-fashioned aviators perched on his wide, faintly bulbous nose.  This was Richards.  

“Hope the ride wasn’t too bad,” Richards said as they shook hands.   Up close Wolgast saw that Richards’ cheeks were pockmarked with old acne scars.  “We’re pretty high up here.  If you’re not used to it, you’ll want to take it easy.”

Richards escorted Wolgast across the parking area to a building he called the Chalet, which was exactly what it sounded like: a large Tudor structure, three stories tall, with the exposed timbers of an old-fashioned sportsman’s lodge.  The mountains had once been full of these places, Wolgast knew, hulking relics from an era before time-share condos and modern resorts.  The building faced an open lawn, and beyond, at a hundred yards or so, a cluster of more workaday structures: cinderblock barracks, a half-dozen military inflatables, a low-slung building that resembled a roadside motel.  Military vehicles, Humvees and smaller jeeps and five ton trucks, were moving up and down the drive; in the center of the lawn, a group of men with broad chests and trim haircuts, naked to the waist, were sunning themselves on lawn chairs.  

Stepping into the Chalet, Wolgast had the disorienting sensation of peeking behind a movie set; the place had been gutted to the studs, its original architecture replaced by the neutral textures of a modern office building: gray carpeting, institutional lighting, acoustic tile drop ceilings.  He might have been in a dentist’s office, or the high-rise off the freeway where he met his accountant once a year to do his taxes.  They stopped at the front desk, where Richards asked him to turn over his handheld and his weapon, which he passed to the guard, a kid in cammos, who tagged them. There was an elevator, but Richards walked past it and led Wolgast down a narrow hallway to a heavy metal door that opened on a flight of stairs.  They ascended to the second floor, and made their way down another non-descript hallway to Sykes’ office. 

Sykes rose from behind his desk as they entered: a tall, well-built man in uniform, his chest spangled with the various bars and little bits of color that Wolgast had never understood.  His office was neat as a pin, its arrangement of objects, right down to the framed photos on his desk, giving the impression of having been placed for maximum efficiency.   Resting in the center of the desk was a single manila folder, fat with folded paper.  Wolgast knew it was almost certainly his personnel file, or some version of it.  

They shook hands and Sykes offered him coffee, which Wolgast accepted.  He wasn’t drowsy but the caffeine, he knew, would help the headache.  

“Sorry about the bullshit with the van,” Sykes said, and waved him to a chair.  “That’s just how we do things.”

A soldier brought in the coffee, a plastic carafe and two china cups on a tray.  Richards remained standing behind Sykes’ desk, his back to the broad windows that looked out on the woodlands that ringed the Compound.  Sykes explained what he wanted Wolgast to do.  It was all quite straight forward, he said, and by now Wolgast knew the basics.  The Army needed between ten and twenty death-row inmates to serve in the third-stage trials of an experimental drug therapy, codenamed Project Noah.   In exchange for their consent, these men would have their sentences commuted to life without parole.  It would be Wolgast’s job to obtain the signatures of these men, nothing more.  Everything had been legally vetted, but because the project was a matter of national security, all of these men would be declared legally dead.  Thereafter, they would spend the rest of their lives in the care of the federal penal system, a white-collar prison camp, under assumed identities.  The men would be chosen based upon a number of factors, but all would be men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five with no living first-degree relatives.  Wolgast would report directly to Sykes; he’d have no other contact, though he’d remain, technically, in the employment of the Bureau.  

“Do I have to pick them?”  Wolgast asked.

Sykes shook his head.  “That’s our job.  You’ll get your orders from me.  All you have to do is get their consent.  Once they’re signed on, the Army will take it from there.  They’ll be moved to the nearest federal lock-up, then we’ll transport them here.”

Wolgast thought a moment.   “Colonel, I have to ask--“

“What we’re doing?”  He seemed, at that moment, to permit himself an almost human-looking smile.

Wolgast nodded.  “I understand I can’t be very specific.  But I’m going to be asking them to sign over their whole lives.  I have to tell them something.”

Sykes exchanged a look with Richards, who shrugged.  “I’ll leave you now,” Richards said, and nodded at Wolgast.  “Agent.” 

When Richards had left, Sykes leaned back in his chair.  “I’m not a biochemist, agent.  You’ll have to be satisfied with the layman’s version.  Here’s the background, at least the part I can tell you. About ten years ago, the CDC got a call from a doctor in La Paz.  He had four patients, all Americans, who had come down with what looked like Hantavirus – high fever, vomiting, muscle pain, headache, hypoxemia.  The four of them had been part of an eco-tour, deep in the jungle.  They claimed that they were part of a group of fourteen but had gotten separated from the others and had been wandering in the jungle for weeks.  It was sheer luck that they’d stumbled onto a remote trading post run by a bunch of Franciscan friars, who arranged their transport to La Paz.  Now, Hanta isn’t the common cold, but it’s not exactly rare, either, so none of this would have been more than a blip on the CDC’s radar if not for one thing.  All of them were terminal cancer patients.  The tour was organized by an organization called ‘Last Wish.’  You’ve heard of them?”

Wolgast nodded.  “I thought they just took people skydiving, things like that.”

 “That’s what I thought, too.  But apparently not.  Of the four, one had an inoperable brain tumor, two had acute lymphocytic leukemia, and the fourth had ovarian cancer.  And every single one of them became well.  Not just the Hanta, or whatever it was.  No cancer.  Not a trace.”

Wolgast felt lost.   “I don’t get it.”

Sykes sipped his coffee.  “Well, neither did anyone at the CDC.   But something had happened, some interaction between their immune systems and something, most likely viral, that they’d been exposed to in the jungle.  Something they ate?  The water they drank?   No one could figure it out.  They couldn’t even say exactly where they’d been.”  He leaned forward over his desk.  “Do you know what the thymus gland is?”

Wolgast shook his head.

Sykes pointed at his chest, just above the breastbone.  “Little thing in here, between the sternum and the trachea, about the size of an acorn.  In most people, it’s atrophied completely by puberty, and you could go your whole life not knowing you had one, unless it was diseased.  Nobody really knows what it does, or at least they didn’t, until they ran scans on these four patients.  The thymus had somehow turned itself back on.  More than back on: it had enlarged to three times its usual size.  It looked like a malignancy but it wasn’t.  And their immune systems had gone into overdrive.  A hugely accelerated rate of cellular regeneration.  And there were other benefits.  Remember these were cancer patients, all over fifty.  It was like they were teenagers again.  Smell, hearing, vision, skin tone, lung volume, physical strength and endurance, even sexual function.  One of the men actually grew back a full head of hair.”

“A virus did this?’

Sykes nodded.  “Like I said, this is the layman’s version.  But I’ve got people downstairs who think that’s exactly what happened.  Some of them have degrees in subjects I can’t even spell.  They talk to me like I’m a child, and they’re not wrong.”

“What happened to them?  The four patients.”

Sykes leaned back in his chair, his face darkening a little.
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