Mythic Storytelling? The Passage
Minor Spoiler warning!
Its rare for me to find a novel that I begin in Brussels and have not finished by the time I touch down on the east coast of the States. With The Passage I was only two thirds of the way though. Popcorn fiction it is not. It is essentially a super-zombie/vampire apocalypse with mythic elements that skirt it from science fiction and into fantasy.
I really enjoyed the book, but there are things within it still churning inside my head. The narrative is very nontraditional, blending together journal entries, both third person limited and omniscient point of views combined with a story that often unfolds in a nonlinear manner. It’s like the book was written as an example of all the narrative techniques used for novels. ”And now class were going to show the consequence of an action before we show how it came to be from a different character’s perpective.” Its an educational read for a writer like myself. Every time I see structural twist I file it away and add it to my own tool box.
Now structural writing and tricks are interesting but we’re here for the story. And there is something very odd about this story. It’s not that the story spans over a hundred characters and features a cast of dozens. It is that logic does not guide this story about a killer vampire virus. Instead Mr. Cronin allows the readers to see the hand of God guiding events. Many minor characters (and a few major) are guided by a voice or a feeling that goes far beyond a hunch. One character walks several hundred miles to a location that she wouldn’t have a single clue about if not for this supernatural nudge. It is the same when normal people do evil things such as form a lynch mob, they’re all shown to be under the mental influence of the forces of evil. The immediate parallel that came to me was Stephen King’s The Stand, although I remember that King’s God was far more subtle until the very end of the series. (I never liked the Hand of God ending.)
Now I am personally torn about this. On one hand this makes the story feel like a mythic legend, as if The Passage is an epic saga where the God uses the people to saves the world through his chosen. On the other, while this is an easy way to explain the bizarre coincidences that are often involved in a story that spans the territory as vast as The Passage, it feels as if the characters are dancing on a defined path. As you read, there is a sense of predetermination to the story and to me it cheapens the trials and decisions the characters make on their own. Everything is part of the plan as it were.
Ultimately, it turned this epic survival story into a religious fantasy. It was a good story while I read it but it leaves a bit of an odd aftertaste because the guiding hand is so blatant and so far, infallible. The Passage is book one of three, so we will see if guiding hands can be misdirected. It has been a very long time since I read The Stand, but if I remember correctly there was quite a bit of doubt that good would win in the end.
In The Passage there seems to be only one hand stirring the pot. It needs an opposing cook.
Have you read The Passage or The Stand? Think I’m right or completely off? Let me know in the comments!