The Passage, by Justin Cronin, is a big end of the world horror novel. In many ways it is a great horror book, and, alas, it falls short short.
On the good side, in that horror novel we have beautiful description and a narrative that just flows. Man, that is what good speculative writing is. You aren’t shoved out, you like the people, good or bad, doing the action, and everything just moves along, and the real world is gone.
You are in his world.
Now, the bad. Cronin is an English teacher, I believe, at least some sort of college geek, and that spells doom. People who have been to college are trained to write in light of all the great classics. So mid way through the book, he loses it. Maybe around page 600 or so, he suddenly starts contriving, writing himself into a corner, and then not bother writing himself out…he just introduces a plot device and skates. This is not good writing.
Mind you, the horror novel is still good. Really good. But it is not great.
The unfortunate truth is that schooling kills the muse.
The muse is that frantic, absorbing heat that burns your soul alive, every square inch of it, while you are writing a good horror novel, or good novel of any kind. You wake up in the morning and you don’t eat or bathroom, you just go to the typewriter, and type. And, late at night, exhausted, you refuse to sleep so you may eke the last bit of muse out of your soul.
The muses are nine Greek goddess who are credited with inspiring man. In modern times it seems (to an artist) that it is a force outside the self that grips one and holds one in thrall to the act of creation.
And Mr. Cronin, in his book, when he gets backed into that corner from which a good writer (and writing) suddenly explodes, trusted to his academic training, and not the urge in his soul.
Still, I recommend the book. When it is good, it is sublime, and one can slide through those few sections where it is not quite sublime.
Read him, and make up your own mind, and then read Machina, by this writer. In that book you will see an example of the muse not refused; you will experience the white hot lust that occupies a real typer’s soul, or what goes for it when he has given himself up for a larger power.
This has been a short blog on an almost great horror novel.