The Second Time Through

In preparation for this week’s release of Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, I spent a good part of last weekend rereading its predecessor, The Passage. Here is a sentence from Cronin’s epic work:

“By nightfall they were fifty miles past Oklahoma City, hurtling west across the open prairie toward a wall of spring thunderheads ascending from the horizon like a bank of blooming flowers in a time-lapse video.”

A number of things struck me about this sentence. There’s tremendous movement, for one thing, and there’s the use of the word thunderheads, which seems to me suggestive of someone who’s spent a great deal of time looking at the sky over an open landscape. The imagery of flowers is beautiful and also cinematic (time-lapse photography has been employed with weather quite effectively in numerous films). Writers are correct to exhibit concern over using too many prepositional phrases, which can suck the life from a sentence, but I think they work here.

Though obviously outside the realm of authorial intent, the sentence did put me in mind of these lyrics from the Alice in Chains song “Brother”:

Roses in a vase of white

Bloodied by the thorns beside the leaves

That fall because my hand is

Pulling them hard as I can

Something I picked up during my second time through the book is the theme of falling that follows the character Wolgast. At one point, Wolgast is carrying the girl Amy, who is unconscious, up a ladder in an air shaft. He has to lean out with her and maneuver her into a duct above him, and there’s this line:

“He began to fall. He’d been falling all along.”

Caught in the moment, I only read this the first time as coinciding with the physical action of the scene. But on my second reading, it brought tears to my eyes, because it said so much more.

And then there is this line, which I found devastating the first time through and just as affecting the second. Notice again the reference to falling.

Amy, he thought as the stars began to fall, everywhere and all around; and he tried to fill his mind with just her name, his daughter’s name, to help him from his life.”

This sentence is dear to me, and I have trouble speaking it aloud without being overcome. Cormac McCarthy, whose stunning work The Road was frequently referenced in reviews for The Passage, is famously quoted as saying that semicolons and exclamation points have no place in literature. McCarthy is a brilliant writer, but I think the semicolon works well here, and I also enjoy the way exclamation points are used in the works of Sarah Langan (a writer whose fiction blows me away) and Swamplandia! author Karen Russell.

Leave a Comment