By Charles Matthews

Monday, October 11, 2010

4. The Passage, by Justin Cronin, pp. 92-163

The PassageI. The Worst Dream in the World, 5-1 B.V., Six-Ten
[I'm going to try to keep these summaries shorter -- to stick to the plot and not get too involved in the details that give the story texture.] 
Lacey, who has overslept, decides to skip Mass and take Amy to the zoo. Sister Claire, a novitiate who joined the order after a bad marriage, agrees to cover for her. At the zoo, Amy asks to see the polar bears, but she seems to have a strange rapport with the creatures, all four of whom gather in front of her at the window that separates them from the crowd, causing water to splash over the barrier and threatening to break the glass. To Lacey, a sorrowful Amy says that the polar bears know "What I am."

At the convent, Sister Arnette has returned to find Lacey and Amy gone, and Sister Claire confesses that they went to the zoo. Arnette is concerned because she knows the real story about Lacey, whose family had been killed in the civil war. Lacey had been found by UN workers after being assaulted and left for dead. In Arnette's view Lacey "might just as well have been dead, if God hadn't protected her by washing her mind of these events." As Arnette is about to call the police, Wolgast and Doyle arrive, claiming "that Amy is a federal witness" and that they are there to "place her under protection." But while they are talking, the police call to tell Arnette that there is a disturbance at the zoo and it seems to center on a black nun with a little girl.

At the zoo all the animals seem to have gone mad, terrifying the crowds. Lacey feels the presence of a "dark man" who was coming for Amy, and the thought links in her mind with her ordeal in Sierra Leone. She picks up Amy and runs for the exit, but in the parking lot she freezes when she hears a gunshot. Claire and Arnette arrive in the van the nuns drive, followed by Wolgast and Doyle in a black sedan. Arnette grabs Amy and hands her to the FBI men, who drive away with her as Lacey collapses, filled with visions of her night in the field in Sierra Leone as well as an apocalyptic vision of the future.

Carter is on his way to the facility in Colorado, riding in a van with two soldiers, Paulson and Davis. After what seems like initial kindness, Paulson begins to mock Carter as "retarded," although Davis tries to make him stop. Paulson also says that Carter must have raped Rachel Wood, which makes Carter feel sick.

Wolgast and Doyle are making their way out of Memphis with Amy. Wolgast is increasingly upset with what they're doing, now that he's seen Amy. Realizing that there were witnesses to Amy's abduction, he checks in with Sykes and trades their sedan for a Chevy Tahoe. 

Richards meets Carter, still in the custody of Paulson and Davis, at the compound. Sensing what has gone on between Carter and the soldiers, and eager to gain Carter's trust, he draws his gun and threatens to shoot Paulson, making Carter feel better even after Richards admits he wouldn't really have shot the soldier.

Wolgast and Doyle are in Oklahoma after making a stop to pick up cash that Sykes had delivered to them. Wolgast declined the new car that was provided as well, choosing to keep the Tahoe. He also declined the bag of weapons and bulletproof vests that were in the trunk of the car. Amy has remained quiet, but Wolgast senses that she's only pretending to sleep. When Amy declares that she needs to go to the bathroom, she insists that Wolgast, not Doyle, accompany her. Now that she's beginning to open up a little, Wolgast tries to reassure her that she shouldn't be afraid. She says she isn't: "You are."

In a small town called Homer, they find a carnival taking place. Wolgast suggests that they take a break there and take Amy on some rides. Doyle reluctantly agrees, but points out that two men in suits with a little girl would attract suspicion, so they change into jeans and sport shirts and go separate ways, Amy staying with Wolgast. She wants to go on the Octopus, and when the ride ends wants to go again.
Wolgast looked down at Amy's face; still that neutral, appraising gaze, yet he detected, behind the darkness of her eyes, a warm light of happiness. A new feeling opened inside him; no one had ever given her such a present.
After riding the Octopus three more times and eating a hot dog, funnel cake and milk, Amy wants to go on the carousel. Wolgast is so taken with playing Amy's father that he thinks, "Lila, this was what I wanted. Did you know? It's all I ever wanted." He sees Doyle flirting with a woman and suddenly makes a plan to escape from everything, to run away with Amy. He tries it, but Doyle catches up with them. Wolgast realizes that Doyle has anticipated this attempt, and when Wolgast starts to plead with his partner, Doyle says, "not menacing, merely stating the facts. 'Don't even say the words. We're partners, Brad. It's time to go.'" But neither of them see that they're being watched by an off-duty state trooper who has seen a report about two men kidnapping a girl at the Memphis zoo.

Grey is hearing a voice that keeps saying: "I was called Fanning." He has slept through his morning shift and is not due to work again until 10 p.m. He has dinner at the commissary and is finishing his meal when Paulson comes up to his table and starts to bully him, wanting Grey to tell him about Level Four. Grey insists that he's just a janitor, but Paulson persists. He asks if Grey dreams, and says, "Well, I sure as hell dream. All goddamn night long. One after the other. I am dreaming some crazy shit.... I dream about you." Then he tells Grey that Jack and Sam are dead. "We're all dead."

Carter has been sedated and had something put in the back of his neck, and now remembers someone pushing the button L4 in the elevator. He is afraid that he is being executed after all. He remembers Wolgast telling him, "I can give you all the time in the world, Anthony. An ocean of time." And he recalls how Rachel Wood had stopped at the traffic light where he was begging with his sign, rolled down the window and fumbled with her purse trying to find some money to give him. The light changed and people began to honk while she continued to look through her purse. A man got out of one of the backed-up cars, carrying a gun, accusing Carter of carjacking. Panicked, Rachel opened the passenger door and let Carter in. In the car, she told him that what attracted her about his sign was the words "God bless you," because she didn't feel blessed.

He went to work for her and for her friends, but after an initial period of feeling that she had done something good for someone else, her depression worsened. One December day, Carter found her daughter Haley, a kindergartner, locked outside on the patio. "Daddy's in Mexico, the girl stated, and shivered in the cold. With his girlfriend. Her mama wouldn't get out of bed." He tried the doors and gave the girl his sweater, then found  a tiny toad in the garden and brought it to show the girl just as Rachel came out of the house and screamed at him to get away from Haley, then shoved him. He tripped over the pool skimmer and, instinctively reaching out for something to grab onto, pulled her into the pool with him. He was unable to swim, and she kept pulling him down until she drowned and released him. He decided, "It was a secret she had given him, the final secret of who she was, and he was meant to keep it."

He becomes aware that there is a figure in the doorway and decides, "All right. I'm ready. Let them come."

Richards meets with Sykes to discuss the "situation":  Amy's mother is a suspect in the shooting of the son of a federal circuit court judge after the gun she left at the scene led police to the motel whose manager ID'd Amy from the photographs taken of her at the convent. Wolgast and Doyle had been identified from the surveillance video at the Mississippi checkpoint, and an Amber Alert had been issued. "Just like that, the whole world was looking for two federal agents and a little girl named Amy Bellafonte." Sykes has ordered a helicopter to intercept Wolgast and Doyle, and as Richards boards it, Sykes warns him, "'She's a kid! ... Do this right!' Whatever that meant, Richards thought."

In the Tahoe, Doyle tells Wolgast, "Richards thought you might have problems with this." Wolgast warns Doyle to be careful of Richards: "Private security contractor. He's little more than a mercenary." When they stop for gas, Doyle reaches over and takes the keys and removes the clip from the gun Wolgast keeps in the glove box. Three state police cruisers race past on the highway, and Wolgast and Doyle realize that they're being looked for.

Sister Arnette is unable to sleep after all the events of the day, including Lacey's unwillingness to identify Wolgast, when shown his photograph, as Amy's abductor: "Do you see? He loves her." Arnette was forced to tell the detective and the other nuns about what had happened to Lacey in Sierra Leone, and Sister Claire called it post-traumatic stress disorder. Arnette dozes off and then wakes in a panic: "Some dark force had come loose in the world, and it was sweeping toward them, coming for them all." She runs to Lacey's room and finds it locked. Her pounding on the door wakes the other nuns, and when Claire pulls her away from the door they see that Arnette's palms are bleeding. Claire rationally points out that Arnette has dug her fingernails into her palms. When they get the door open, they find that Lacey has gone.

Grey is still unsettled by the encounter with Paulson when he reports for duty. And then Richards gets on the elevator with him and tells him he's been docked twelve hundred dollars -- the pay for two shifts -- for failing to show up that morning. Grey notices the signs warning that anyone with symptoms including vomiting, fever, disorientation and seizures should report them immediately. After checking in with Davis, who is working security, he goes to L4, where he meets two other sweeps, Jude and Ignacio, and sees that his duties are to mop, empty trash and watch Zero to see if he is eating. A tech named Pujol comes to see about Zero, and Grey tells him that he's still not eating. He asks Pujol why, when the subjects are given ten rabbits, they only eat nine of them. Pujol suggests they're saving it for later. Grey wants to ask why they are fed rabbits, and how Zero can stick to the ceiling, but doesn't.

Then, after Pujol has gone, Grey starts to doze off and is wakened by a voice "in his head, almost like something he was reading: the words were someone else's, but the voice was his own." It calls his name and says "Look at me." Grey looks at the image of Zero on the monitor. "I was called Fanning," it says, and then asks Grey to take him home. Grey's head is filled with visions of a city, then of a college campus and the young women on it. The voice also tantalizes him with images of the boy Grey molested and then of a girl alone and afraid on the college campus.

Grey vomits, then makes a panicked attempt to clean it up. He takes the elevator to L3, where Davis is reading a porno magazine. Davis panics when Grey tells him he isn't feeling well: The level would have to be quarantined and both of them would be stuck there. So Davis lets Grey take the elevator.

[Cronin takes a turn deeper into the paranormal -- as if swarms of man-eating bats and viruses that turn people into vampires weren't paranormal enough -- with Amy's effect on the zoo animals, the psychic connection with Wolgast, and the ability of Zero/Fanning to invade people's dreams. He handles it well, I think, because the groundwork he has laid for his novel in conventional psychology and physiology now enables him to skew off in another direction. And he has hinted at where he's going: Carter's reference on p. 48 to The X-Files, for example.  

One of the more impressive things about Cronin's narrative is his ability to juggle so many points of view and to individualize his characters. He empathizes with his characters, so that he's able to keep even the minutiae of their inner lives consistent. For example, when Paulson and Davis release Carter from his shackles, "Carter couldn't remember when he'd gone anywhere without somebody's hand on him someplace." This is consistent with an observation about Carter some eighty pages earlier, when he's in prison: "Part of you got used to people's hands being on you this way, and part of you didn't."

Cronin is also good at weaving connections between his characters. When Lacey is being raped in the field in Sierra Leone, "she had sent her mind away from her body, up and up through the branches to heaven, where God was, and the girl in the field was someone else." This echoes Jeanette's ability to see the prostitute, the Jeanette "who stood on the highway in her stretch top and skirt" as "a made-up person, like a woman in a story she wasn't sure she wanted to know the end of." And since the night in the field, Lacey has been hearing voices -- "Lacey Antoinette Kudoto. Listen. Look." -- that are eerily (and probably significantly) similar to the voice of Zero/Fanning in Grey's head.] 

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