New literary thriller is a powerful page-turner

  • Article by: CAROLE E. BARROWMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2011 - 3:31 PM

Much more than a vampire novel, "The Passage" is an epic narrative that addresses philosophical questions.

"The Passage" by Justin Cronin

If you're lamenting "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" coming to an end, let me tell you about Amy, "the Girl From Nowhere." She's one of the heroes in Justin Cronin's "The Passage" (Ballantine Books, 766 pages, $27), an action-packed philosophically powerful novel that, despite its heft, you won't want to put down.

Since the publication of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" in 1818, speculative fiction has always explored philosophical "what if" questions. Shelley asked, "What if science could create life?" And Frankenstein's monster was born. More recently, writers like P.D. James in "The Children of Men" and Cormac McCarthy in "The Road" posited "what ifs" that reflected our contemporary challenges with technology and progress, with individual responsibility vs. the needs of the many.

Cronin's "The Passage" (the first in a planned trilogy) is an amazing addition to this literary tradition. In a story that's equal parts supernatural thriller and chronicle of survival, Cronin imagines what if, in the name of national security, scientific research unleashed a terrible evil on the world? The result is an epic narrative that spans generations. In tender moments among families and lovers and bloody breathtaking battles against the "virals" (vampires), Cronin creates an enthralling narrative about the evolution of a new world. Amy, born to a single mother in Iowa, becomes -- with the help of a band of protectors -- its creator and its savior.

To give you any more details about the plot wouldn't be fair because Cronin has crafted his vision so that the end of the "Time Before" and the beginning of a future millennium unfolds as if you're hearing the stories and the myths and discovering the journals and the documents for yourself.

Before publication of "The Passage," Cronin already had solid literary fiction credentials, winning a PEN/Hemingway award for a short-story collection and graduating from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Cronin's young daughter claimed his writing was "probably boring" and she challenged him to write a story about a girl who saves the world. From the mouth of a babe, Amy was born.

Carole Barrowman teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and blogs at carolebarrowman.com.

  • JUSTIN CRONIN

    What: "The Passage," reading and book signing.

    Where: Barnes & Noble, HarMar Mall, 2100 N. Snelling Av., Roseville.

    When: 7 p.m. Thu.

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