Book Review: THE PASSAGE, a gripping though bloated story of an experiment gone wrong

cronin, justin - the passageThe Passage
Justin Cronin

When my husband asked what I thought about The Passage, my first response was, “It’s long.” He said that wasn’t a ringing endorsement.

The book begins in the present day when the work of good-meaning scientists is co-opted by the military and christened Project Noah. Their experiments require a disposable child so they send agent Brad Wolgast and Agent Phil Doyle to retrieve six-year-old Amy Belafonte from Memphis. Her father is out of the picture and her mother, a prostitute, was just arrested for murdering a fraternity brother.

In the course of bringing Amy to Colorado, Wolgast bonds with Amy and decides to flee with her. Richards, one of the leaders of Project Noah, is able to thwart Wolgast’s efforts and bring the trio in to the Project Noah headquarters. As expected, the experiment goes horribly wrong, though Wolgast and Amy are able to escape and hide in a cabin for several months.

I had expected the story in this book to end there, but instead, it fast forwarded around one hundred years into the future where the remaining humans are still struggling to survive the fallout from Project Noah. The Colony, established by the army before it fell apart, has been running effectively, but their security measures are failing. At the same time, Amy arrives at their gates. Some of the more independent members of the Colony believe that Amy is linked to their survival and they begin a journey to the source of a radio signal in Colorado that they think will provide salvation.

Although the book surprised me by taking this turn, I was invested enough in Amy and the other characters that I maintained interested in the book and wanted to know what happened. What I didn’t like was Cronin’s unnecessary details. He was meticulous in describing–everything. Some of that was warranted, in the case of the Project Noah headquarters or the Colony, but not a police station that was only visited once for a brief time or an outpost that was a quick stop on a long journey. The same attention was given to characters. Major or minor, whether they were going to be in the book a few pages or for most of the story, they received the same level of characterization. Normally, I wouldn’t complain, but it made the book bloated and distracted from the action of the narrative. I think it would have been so much better with a careful editing.