King vs. Cronin

I like a good story and have huge respect for authors who can come up with a real page-turner.  I have no patience, however, for bad writing so when New York Times book reviewer, Janet Maslin, included Stephen King’s Under the Dome in her top 10 picks for 2009, I was intrigued (she referred to it as having “the scope and flavor of literary Americana”).  I was similarly intrigued by the appearance of The Passage by Justin Cronin on Time’s top 10 for 2010 (Cronin is an Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate and his other two novels were applauded as “quiet … literary explorations”).  Neither book disappointed.  Both fell into the “I stayed up too late reading” camp of novels.  Both have outlandish premises – vampires in The Passage and a dome cutting a town off from the rest of humanity in Under the Dome.  As such, a reader who is not keen to suspend too much disbelief should steer clear.  But, given the premises, it was only the Cronin book that made me (occasionally) roll my eyes in that “come on, really?” sort of way.  Perhaps it is not fair to complain of an “unrealistic” plot turn given the nature of the work but a fantastical setting should not be a carte blanche.  One can’t help but think that the author came up with the additional bit of fantasy (perhaps not quite a deus ex machina but verging) to get him out of a sticky plot situation.   King, on the other hand, doesn’t venture out of the parameters of the (strange) world he’s created.  That is not only more challenging but also more satisfying.

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