The Passage

Cover image from the book called The Passage

The Passage is one of the best epic horror books of the decade

The Passage
Justin Cronin

I’ve easily read hundreds, maybe thousands of books. Of those, most were pretty good. Only a small percentage of them have been bad enough to stop reading before I got to the end.

This was not one of those books.

On the other end of the spectrum, only a small percentage of them have been good enough to literally keep me glued to the book, especially as I got older and more jaded.

This was one of those books.

The Passage has the end of the world in it. A terrible calamity which unfurls in the first part of the book. I will not go into this further, but the Cronin does a great job of ending the world in a cinematic, jarring, and disheartening way. Very well done.

After the world ends, the book really begins. And then what is left, except for a journey? There is good, there is evil. The evil is vast and all-powerful. The good is weak, lost, and confused. So the journey must begin.

If this reminds you of a bunch of books, say Lord of the Rings or The Stand, you’re not alone. Stephen King is a huge fan of this book and the sequel, and it compares favorable to The Stand. In fact, I’d say it’s better than The Stand (gasp!), but it’s been a long time since I read King’s book.

After reading so many books, everything starts running together. It’s the crime novel with the twist at the end. It’s the thriller where the best friend is the enemy. It’s the fantasy novel where people just mill about waiting for a crash of galactic civilizations. And so forth. The writing? Well, it’s pretty much all the same.

Cronin is a craftsman. I found myself enjoying the way he put the words together for the book almost as much as the book itself. I remember a few times early on in the book where I said to myself “Wow! This guy really has me hooked and I’m on quite a ride!” I very rarely feel like that. There’s a magical feeling you get when you’re young and you dive into a great book. Cronin was able to do that to this jaded reader, and that made the book well worth the purchase price.

By the way, there is already a sequel out! “The Twelve”. Can’t wait to get started on that one next week!

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    The Girl Next Door

    Poster for the movie The Girl Next Door

    The Girl Next Door is an emotionally-powerful kick in the teeth

    This was the first Jack Ketchum book I ever read, and wow, did it make an impression.

    Since then I’ve read a few Ketchum books. He has a talent for gore and disgust. By way of analogy, I love watching “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” where great comedians ad-lib various funny situations. But over time I’ve found that if they can’t make you laugh because it’s funny, they’ll just do something that embarrasses you. Laughing because you’re embarrassed to them is just the same as laughing because you think something is funny. It’s kind of a cheap trick (but one many comedians use, and to great effect).

    Likewise, some horror writers try to disgust you instead of scaring you. They try to think of the most awful and insensate acts of evil, then play them out for you on the page. Ketchum to me is one of these guys. That’s not saying he’s a bad writer, just that his style is like that. If you like that thing, you’ll probabaly like all of his books.

    But every now and then the writer’s style and the material move together such that the writer’s character and the character of the story merge. In The Girl Next Door, this is what happens. It’s a story about a typical suburban neighborhood around 1958. Ketchum does a great job of describing this world. It made me feel like I grew up in the 50s. Due to an accident, a couple of girls move in with the family next door. At this point the story slowly drifts from being a slice-of-life story to something much, much darker. It becomes a meditation on how people treat each other, especially how people treat outsiders. The Other. Basing it on a true story only adds to the punch.

    I won’t go into details. I don’t want to, even if you’ll never read the book. I find them disturbing to recall. The entire book moves from a warm, lighthearted suburban drama to a dark tale of vile horror. In short, it was a great book! Left me thinking about it a month later, and that’s always a sign of a good read. Many of the books I read and review here I have to review right after I read them, otherwise I forget a lot. Not The Girl Next Door — it stays with you a long, long time after you’ve finished.

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      the 2001 horror novel by richard laymon titled the traveling vampire show

      A nice, easy, scary-as-hell horror story. Just like they should be.

      Some of the best scary stories are told over campfires. The storyteller stands up, or leans forward, and with his voice and emotions takes the entire group on a trip through fear. There’s no rushing these stories — the best storytellers take their time, make sure you get a real, nice feel for the characters and the situation, then slowly knit up the story.

      This is the first Richard Laymon book I’ve ever read. Looking at the reviews, it seems he did a lot of sex and gore in the past. I didn’t know that starting this book, and I think it made for a better read. A bunch of teenagers? Some kind of traveling vampire show? What was this, a Scooby Do episode? And like a great storyteller, Laymon takes his time, showing us each character and slowly building the suspense until the heart-pounding ending.

      I don’t want to give too much away in this review, but it’s fair to say it’s about an experience one summer that changes the lives of our main teenage characters forever. Laymon has a way with character development. Over the course of this book I really felt like I got to know the major players very well. It made me want to read another book with those same characters in it!

      It does build slowly, however, and I had to buckle down a bit to read it. The last 25% or so is when things really heat up, and by the time I finished I was impressed at the great story I had just been told.

      I’m not sure I’d call it a horror novel, at least not in the sense most horror novels are today. This one was much more subtle — and because of that will leave a longer-lasting impact. If you’ve got some time on a trip or vacation and want a nice scary campfire story to read, The Traveling Vampire Show is a sure bet.

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        Ketchum has a way with readers. He doesn’t like them. Or rather, he enjoys setting up situations where his characters can be tortured, raped, mutilated, and generally overwhelmed with the futility of life, then he takes us on a slow tour through hell.

        It’s not that Ketchum is a bad writer. Far from it. He knows his craft and takes his time setting up his stories. And I think if you have a taste for this sort of genre, you’ll like him a lot. Personally, I was amazed at first with his work but then became slowly dulled to it. After so much disgust, it all kind of runs together. I guess Ketchum was doing torture porn long before Saw came around? I must say he does it a lot better.

        Off season is a good read if you have the stomach for it.

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