The Passage/The Twelve/City of Mirrors

So… I read a post-apocalyptic trilogy. It’s got vampires in it, or at least an entity similar enough to warrant the nomenclature. I have no regrets. It was fucking fantastic, and a hell of a lot of fun to read. Justin Cronin’s pre-apocalypse-vampire credits include an undergrad education at Harvard, an Iowa Writer’s Workshop MFA, a couple of your standard-fair lit-fic novels, and some serious writing prizes. All of the chops that one would expect to go along with that biography are certainly present -the guy writes fucking well. He just seems to have decided to point those chops at telling a very long-form (total page count of the trilogy approaches two thousand) fantasy, all couched in a plausible reality. This isn’t quite fantasy, it isn’t quite science fiction. The narrative will get these books classified as “genre” but there’s none of the rapid-output verbal paunch that seems endemic to even “good” genre fiction.

There are a lot of Steven King comparisons being made, and this is absolutely true. Cronin has created a series with the kind of epic scale and horror elements that King is known for, and a host of minor similarities are present, too. But I would argue that Cronin does King far better than King does. Both the writing and the narrative are tight and seem obsessively polished and worked over. These books fit together perfectly, a self-contained narrative that delivers on all the grandiose promises it makes.

Most impressive to me is the diversity of this series. There are a good dozen different books distilled into these three -your University Memoir, short story sketches of minor players, a technological survivalist adventure, and, of course the horror. All of this praise for thematic diversity has failed to touch on the most impressive aspect: the religious and downright Biblical. This angle gets woven into everything deftly, and the reader isn’t quite sure how much of it ought to be taken at face value -but that’s clearly Cronin’s goal.

Recommendation: Read it. Goddamn. So much fucking fun, so well done.


Reading Log: Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine


Well, now I’m all out of Thom Jones books. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine is the last of Jones’s three published works. He’s got a couple loose stories floating around that I intend to track down, but as far as traditionally published books go, I am now a Thom Jones completist, which makes me more than a little sad.

Sonny Liston is certainly on par with his debut, The Pugilist at Rest. Oddly, the titular story Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine is far and away the weakest and most disappointing story in the lot, falling back on heavily-treed banalities in spite of it’s sporadic brilliance. The collection improves mightily right after, return to familiar Jones characters from The Pugilist. We’re back in the world of Vietnam, boxing and frontal lobe epilepsy, sometimes with new characters, sometimes with old. The stories are sometimes hilarious but never stray far from brutality.

Jones’s three story collections are a vast trilogy of short fiction, each sharing characters and themes while still retaining a smaller, individual vision. I plan on rereading all three books and diagraming out the interconnecting stories, drawing solid lines that connect the disparate narratives sharing characters, dotted ones for those connections that; however likely, remain uncertain due to the unreliability of a narrator or the form of that particular narrative. Read these books. The “traditional” form of the short story gets short shrift, but the kind of interweaving storytelling Jones accomplishes in these three books would be impossible in any other medium.

Recommendation: Buy them all, read in the order of publication.

Cold snap :stories
by Thom Jones