Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Almost 800 page book comes up short

I have finally finished THE PASSAGE.

Well, sort of.

First, a little background. THE PASSAGE is an almost-800 page book by Justin Cronin, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award. He is no schlock; he's a literary writer who is acclaimed. But he decided to go off the reservation a little and write a vampire book, which is much more commercial. He also got a commercial rate: Random House paid him $3.75 million for a trilogy and Ridley Scott paid him $1.75 million for the film rights. Justin Cronin is sitting on easy street, something a literary writer usually doesn't do.

Because of all that, this book, which came out June 8, had big buzz. For months. I think I first read about the book six months ago, and in the week before the book came out, the New York Times wrote at least two stories about it and Cronin.

So I put the book on hold at my local library. I couldn't help myself. I was curious. I wanted to know what a $3.75 million vampire book would offer me as a reader.

I got it on Friday, and while there was one hold ahead of me, I wonder if that other person actually read the whole book or did what I did.

I skipped 250 pages in the middle of the book.

Honestly, for the first 250 pages, I couldn't put the book down. It was compelling. Cronin clearly can write, and his use of language made up for the fact that this was a book about vampires. In the future. A dystopian community. Two of the biggest cliches you can find these days, especially in Young Adult fiction. But the characters were fascinating, their backstories carefully revealed, the plot curiously riveting.

And then, suddenly, on page 249, the book became something completely different. New characters, new setting, in a different future time than previously. I read about 20 to 25 pages about new characters, but the writing became very dense to me, and because I was missing those other characters, I couldn't get into it.

I put the book down for a day.

When I picked it back up last night, I fast forwarded 200 pages. I started again about page 550. There were the characters I didn't spend any time getting to know earlier, but it didn't matter at all. Suddenly I did know them, and a character from the beginning was back, and then what happened in the beginning started to come full circle.

I finished the book and felt it was a fair and satisfying ending. Although I doubt I will pursue any of the rest of the trilogy. This book could've easily been a trilogy in itself. The length felt self indulgent, and the fact that I didn't have to read 200 pages in the middle of it violated one of Elmore Leonard's rules of writing:

Leave out all the hooptedoodle, or, all the stuff no one reads.

Are you like me? Will you read a book just to see what all the buzz is about?


jenny milchman said...

Wow, talk about a mixed bag! I live in a box and thus only heard about this book the day before finding your blog post (literally). May have to pick up a copy now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Chris said...

Interesting post. I hardly ever read things because of the buzz (have yet to read Harry Potter...) because my list of things I want to read is usually much longer than the amount of time I have to read.

I'm totally on board with that Elmore Leonard rule--which is one aspect of writing I feel like genre people understand better than the lit types. Nothing frustrates me more than 100 pages of back story or setting. Lame.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I loved his first book--Mary and O'Neil. Too bad he thought he had to go with something bigger. He sold over 70,000 books doing what he did best-writing about ordinary people. I guess it wasn't enough for him.

JD Rhoades said...

"Will you read a book just to see what all the buzz is about?"

About fifty pages. Life's too damn short as it is.

L.J. Sellers said...

The length alone is enough to intimidate me. And as JD said, life is short... and there are a lot of books to choose from.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, I had exactly the samwe experiecne. The first 200-250 pages--wow wow wow. Incredibly good. Intimidatingly good.

Then it all changed, and it wasn't that it wasn't good anymore, I thought--it was just different.

(And by that time, it was so--disturbing--I needed to get out from under the spell a bit.)

So then I looked at the end. Yes, I did. Just to see. Because I don't like surprises.

ANd now I'm going to start back at the middle again. I think he's so talented! But you have to admit, it's...unique. I'm coming down on the side of yes.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

YOu know what I meant. "Same experience." Sigh.

David Terrenoire said...

Sweet Jesus (no pun intended), I succumbed to the hype with the Da Vinci Code.That book burned me bad on the "you gotta read this" scale of social interaction. I have tried the Harry Potter books and couldn't do it. My reading today consists of good pulp like Goodis, well-written big book pop like Lehane's The Given Day and lots of nonfiction history for research and fun.

I probably won't try this. As my brother of another mother said, "Life is too short."

David Terrenoire said...

Oops, that should be, "Life's too damn short as it is."

Anonymous said...

First, I love the word "hooptedoodle." Is that a new one?

Second, I usually skip the "buzz" books, though I did just read THE IMPERFECTIONISTS (good) and purchase the Stieg Larsson trilogy. (I know you recommend those!)

Third, have you heard of this great series called The Tattoo Shop Mysteries? Oh, wait...