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I fell asleep on the couch a few times reading this one. It’s not boring. I just happened to pick it up on a quiet, cozy week meant for napping with the window open. Once I woke to find a soft purrball curled next to me with a paw on my hand. I don’t have cat.

He has a name but we call him fire escape kitty now. He likes to perch on our fire escape and watch the massive colorful koi fish in our neighbor’s little pond. On chilly days now he scratches at our window screen. Sometimes we let him in and watch as he rolls around on our floor or tries to tear up the couch for a few minutes before returning to the wild. No person could get away with that, except maybe Bill Murray. Waking up crammed on the couch beside a fire escape human would be terrifying, but now that it’s in my head I almost expect it to happen.

Being home alone for the last few weeks as my boyfriend visited family was weird. I’d let the neighbor’s cat in for a visit and forget he was here only to get a shock when a small warm body rubbed against my leg or made himself at home while I napped. Then there was the nightly paranoia of checking all the locks, then making sure the stove was off and all the faucets off and forgetting whether or not I checked all the locks so starting the circuit again. One morning I woke up to find our freezer wide open. Nothing inside was cold or frozen anymore so it’d been like that for a while. I added wedging a chair and pillow against the freezer to my nightly to-dos.

And it’s October so I can’t not watch and read horror, but it does get to me more when I’m alone. On one particularly eerie night when my upstairs and downstairs neighbors were both out of town and this usually noisy building full of small kids and dogs was suddenly silent, I turned on the TV for dumb background noise while I read. Right away the news comes on with the following teaser: Up next: Creepy story. New Jersey woman finds stranger in her closet.

I checked our closets before returning to The Passage by Justin Cronin. I was a little on edge during the week I read this.

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The Passage is a usual suspect on horror novel lists. I didn’t find it scary, but that’s not the only criteria of great horror. Genre fans will be pleased by the vampire-ish monsters and the freaky way they go Boo. Lovers of literature, the writing here is too good to miss. This book was a huge hit when it came out in 2010. You know what’s great about arriving late? The entire trilogy is already written, published and there when you’re alone in a city of millions, wondering if there’s a stranger in the closet.

This is a thick book and sometimes I’m lazy about committing to a hefty trilogy so I look for reasons to put the first installment down. Cronin doesn’t offer any. At no point could I tell where these 800+ pages were going, but I kept wanting to know. The only way to find out is to read the thing.

The story begins with a teenage mother’s downward spiral, leading her to abandon her 6-year-old daughter Amy Harper at a convent. A nun named Sister Lacey forms an instant connection with the girl, but it’s not enough to keep FBI agents from taking her. These agents are in the process of recruiting select inmates on death row, so the assignment to grab a child marks a turning point in their already dubious mission.

A secret government experiment goes terribly wrong and what results is a devastating plague that rapidly transforms the population into hungry monsters we later know as smokes. This story has been told before but never in this way.

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be reborn.

The world falls apart and by the next chapter we’re about one hundred years into the future with the 99 souls living in a walled camp somewhere in California. They uphold the rigid rules and roles laid out by their forebears because it’s all they’ve ever known and they believe their survival depends on it. The smokes are still out there.

Some of Cronin’s best writing builds this new post-apocalyptic world, nodding to some expected tropes while twisting the plot through a new cast of characters with an urgent problem. All we’ve learned until this point is vital because the story hinges on a series of choices made by a handful of individuals. Characters’ choices propel the action, which is an aspect of good craft that often falls through the cracks in big stories.

The war of nature upon machines, of the planet’s chaotic forces upon the works of humankind. The energy that men had pulled from the earth was being inexorably pulled back into it, sucked like water down a drain.

Parts of this book reminded me of The Walking Dead when Rick’s group was on the road in search of something to grasp on to. Here a small group of survivor’s venture out into a world they barely know. They have hope and each other.

With a shove the door spilled open on its rusted hinges, exhaling a wash of trapped air as dense and warm as human breath.

The Passage reads more like a sci-fi with thrills than a horror. It’s long and there was a lot of hype around it, and these two factors tend to induce extreme reactions from readers, myself included. Bad books are annoying. Bad, long, over-hyped books are unforgivable. Likewise, an epic story that continuously delivers deserves high praise. I’m excited to read The Twelve and will try not to be lazy with this trilogy.

What were they looking for, what would the find? The journey had acquired a meaning of its own, intrinsic to move, to keep moving.

 

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