Monday, June 07, 2010

*Review* and Q&A for The Passage by Justin Cronin

Where will you be when the lights go out?

The Passage by Justin Cronin arrived on my desk in March as an advance reading copy. I looked at the 766 page tome and at the premise of the book and thought "Nope, not for me".

And then I took it home one Friday night on a whim and can now only agree with Stephen King's review: "Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears."

The story takes place 20 years or so in the future. At an army research station in Colorado, an experiment is being conducted by a top secret U.S. military operation: twelve men are exposed to a virus meant to weaponize the human form by super-charging the immune system. So far the experiment is going as planned, according to the "experts" running the facility. Then they decide to test their work on a little girl. Amy has been abandoned by her impoverished mother until she is rescued by Brad Wolgast, the FBI agent who has been tasked with handing her over to the research team.

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

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at the facility unleashes the monstrous product creating a night of chaos and carnage that never ends. Civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey.

Fast forward to 100 years later: The U.S. is now a desolate landscape dotted with remote groups of people living in exiled communes. They must keep the lights on all night as to protect themselves from the monsters of this failed experiment. One group in California is aware that the electricity that they depend on for survival will not last. They are not aware if any other humans have survived. They are losing their history. Until a teenage girl named Amy walks out of the forest and into their lives.

This is not the type of book that I am drawn to. I am not a big mystery, fantasy or Sci-Fi reader by any means. Perhaps this book fits into those categories. However I don't really care - the story is addictive and the writing is like watching a movie take place on your inner eyelids. I felt intrigued, thrilled, terrified, nervous, happy and on the edge of my seat while reading The Passage. Whenever I had to put it down my brain screamed to pick it up again. I was devastated when I finished it only to realize that this is the first in a trilogy. I called my sales rep to demand to know when the next one is coming out and was so disappointed when he didn't have an answer.

Justin Cronin was inspired to write this book after a conversation he had with his young daughter. She admitted that she never read any of his books (he has also written Mary O'Neill and The Summer Guest) because they looked boring. He started to get defensive and then stopped and asked her what she would like to read instead. Her answer: a story about a girl who saves the world. That story is The Passage. Make sure you bring it with you on your holidays this summer. Available in hardcover on June 8th - place your order now!


And this Q&A with Justin Cronin was just sent to us by Random House. Enjoy!

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. His newest novel, The Passage, is published by Doubleday Canada.
20 Writerly Questions for… Justin Cronin
1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?
Girl saves world.
2. How long did it take you to write this book?
47 years. But most of it in the last 3.
3. Where is your favorite place to write?
Rome is nice. But usually I write in my office over the garage. I used to write IN the garage.
4. How do you choose your characters’ names?
Like my children's names, they seem to come from above.
5. How many drafts do you go through?
Three at least. In the second draft, I add. In the third, I cut. Often I have to do this more than once.
6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?
Currently, Joseph O'Neill's NETHERLAND.
7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?
I think Russell Crowe would make a great Agent Wolgast.
8. What’s your favourite city in the world?
Houston, TX, because my children live there. It's home.
9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?
Shakespeare. How did you do it?
10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind??
Only the music of the spheres.
11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?
My wife, Leslie.
12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?
Reading is too virtuous an act to make me feel guilty.
13. What’s on your nightstand right now?
A galley of Alan Furst's new novel, SPIES OF THE BALKANS; Ian McEwan's SOLAR; Colum McCann's LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN; Danielle Trussoni's ANGELOLOGY; Graham Green's THE HEART OF THE MATTER; three pairs of eyeglasses.
14. What is the first book you remember reading?
15. Did you always want to be a writer?
I always liked to write. As for being a writer, that kind of crept up on me during my 20s.
16. What do you drink or eat while you write?
I don't eat, but I drink a lot of coffee. Diet Coke in the afternoon.
17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?
None of the above. I use a desktop computer with a screen the size of a baby pool. I can see four pages at a time. I sometimes compose on legal pads. I use colored drawing pencils because they're softer.
18. What did you do immediately after hearing that you were being published for the very first time?
It was long ago (1988), so I'm not sure. Probably I had to sit down for a few minutes, and then went for a long run.
19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?
This decision always seems to be made for me by the kind of story I'm trying to tell. It's the one aspect of a novel I've never really had to think about very hard.
20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?
Be nice to my children. And if you feel like doing some babysitting, that would be great.

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