Around the summer of 1986, I read my first Dean Koontz novel, Strangers. I’d never read anything like it, and it’s still my favorite of all the Koontz books I’ve read. It was something like 630 pages, hardcover, and I read it in five or six days. How deeply engrossed was I in Strangers? I still remember coming downstairs one night to find my mom and brother asking me if I’d heard all the racket outside, and I said I hadn’t. There’d been several police cars on our street earlier in the evening, because a guy had apparently overdosed on something, and was sitting in a car, naked, just a couple buildings down from us. Even now, I don’t mind that I missed all that excitement, because reading Strangers was way more entertaining than anything happening in my real world.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading The Passage by Justin Cronin. I first heard about it on a Books on the Nightstand podcast, and several of the book bloggers I follow read advance copies and were raving about it. My favorite review is this one from Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? I love how she’s practically begging people, “Don’t be that guy!” — the one who refuses to read The Passage because of some bias against this or that kind of book. Basically, there are enough reviews of this book online that I don’t feel obligated to write a “review.” And I also want to say that while book hype often turns me off, I’ve wanted to read this one ever since I heard about it on Books on the Nightstand.
So, having purchased the hardcover for half off at Hastings back in June, I finally picked it up and started reading it right after my August book group meeting. I wasn’t overwhelmed right from the start, but by about page 50, I was really enjoying it. I found myself reading whenever I had 15 minutes (or more!) to focus on it: on many of my breaks at work, while eating supper at home, during the evening if I could, and before going to sleep. (And of course, I was up later than I should have been.) Reading The Passage reminded me of reading Strangers, that same kind of total immersion in another world that true book lovers are always seeking. As Stephen King’s blurb on the back cover says, “Read this book and the ordinary world disappears.”
Speaking of Stephen King, I was also reminded of his book The Stand as I read this. (I’m really NOT a huge horror/thriller fan; The Stand is the only King I’ve read so far, and Koontz has written MANY more books than what I’ve read.) It’s a different kind of virus, but the idea of only small pockets of people surviving the crisis, corpses scattered across the country, and the scarcity of resources from “the Time Before” is similar to King’s epic. And yes, the character of Auntie is reminiscent of Mother Abigail.
But in spite of these similarities and echoes, The Passage didn’t seem derivative to me. It’s huge, chaotic, and exciting. In spite of my busy life, I read this 766-page novel, every page, in only two weeks. I actually felt a letdown for a day or two after I finished it. (My reply to Stephen King: Finish reading this book, and fall back into your regular humdrum life.) It’s full of characters I came to care about, some even to love. When my book group met to discuss A Division of the Spoils, the last book in Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, maybe 11 years ago, I confessed to everyone, “I’m in love with Guy Perron!” As I read the final chapters of The Passage this past week, I thought to myself, “I’m in love with Peter Jaxon!”
The Passage is the first book in a proposed trilogy, and while some things were resolved in the book, additional questions were raised near the end, and there is room for a lot more story to be told. I’m definitely going to read the next book; Cronin has me completely hooked. Visit the website, and consider taking this amazing trip for yourself.