Crashing through the City of Mirrors

CIty of MirrorsLong have I considered myself a zombie guy.  The sense of civilization lost, of a rag-tag group of survivors trying to make things right (or at least stop things from going so very, very wrong), the sobering irreversibility of so much lost and nothing gained.  Which is why I was surprised to find myself so enthralled by Justin Cronin’s The Passage a few summers ago.  Much like the story, I can’t quite call it a vampire story, though that’s exactly what it is.  It’s like the movie Contagion but with real blood-letting consequences.  I had a daily lunch-date with Amy and Wolgast and their attempts at understanding what was happening to the world around them.  It was a story so good that I didn’t feel any need for a sequel (even though the story of Amy obviously begged for one).  Then came The Twelve.  It moved the story in an interesting direction, not-the-least-of-which was a jump in time to a frontier-like picture of life after the virals all but conquered North America.  The novel’s climactic conflagration cemented in my mind Cronin as a master of plot and timing.  Then came The City of Mirrors.  I bought it as soon as it came out but couldn’t get into it.  And so I put it aside . . . until last week.

Much like The Twelve, The City of Mirrors plays with time a little, skipping both forward and backward across its 600 pages.  The cast from The Twelve mostly return, though many are changed, have grown older and, in different ways, wiser.  And in that passage of time, the stakes have once again gotten very, very high.  Despite its size, the cast feels wonderfully realized, easily distinguishable from one another.  The big shift in this book, of course, is the intentional telling of the story of Zero, Timothy Fanning, the first viral.  His story takes up an inordinate amount of the book, which shocked me at first.  If nothing else, it was evidence that Cronin could do more than just tell tense action scenes well.  With Fanning, we get a glimpse of college life in the 90s through the point-of-view of an outcast who finally finds people he loves.

It’s all set-up, of course.  In fact, the first two-thirds of the book is set-up.  Which, in Cronin’s hand, is perfectly fine.  There are enough twists and turns in the first two-thirds of the book that you can’t help but read on.  And then, once all of the pieces are in place? No turning back, not at all.  And you wouldn’t have it any other way.

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There’s something very cinematic about Cronin’s style.  You get a great sense of that in The Twelve.  And then he’s obviously honed that ability by the end of Mirrors.  The cuts he makes from character to character, storyline to storyline,  work in a way that almost defy good novel-specific storytelling.  It’s read just like the best, most climactic moments of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings view: multiple cuts with tension and a thematic thread holding things together.

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Last month FOX announced that it had picked up The Passage for its 2018-2019 television season.  It’s a second attempt to bring the story to the small screen.  And while the show’s trailer, which I posted here, doesn’t look all that different from other stories of its kind, I can’t help but hope that the show is good enough, sticks around long enough, to fully embrace the gripping and consuming story it eventually becomes.  It would definitely require a shift in tone and cast after a season or two, but it would be worth it.

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This puts me at four books read this summer: Lanier, O’Donovan, Palahniuk, and Cronin.  I’ve got a second O’Donovan book in the bag . . . really abstract, but some real wisdom in there.  I’ve got a Chabon novel up next, along with a couple of recommended theology books from Richard Hays.  I’m not sure which, if any of these, will make it on the plane next week.  Plus there’s the necessary re-read of Alan Jacobs’s How to Think before the school year starts up.  Guess we’ll have to see how much reading happens between now and then.

(image from

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