Where will you be in the next 1,000 hours? Where will you be in the next 1,000 days? Where will you be in the next 1,000 years? Scope matters; it informs our decisions as well as our visions. As humans, our gift is that we can encompass scope in any degree, from the infinitesimal to the cosmic. It is also problematic to do so. Give Justin Cronin credit then, for scope in all the degrees that matter to us as readers.
Beginning with The Passage, continuing with The Twelve, and now concluding in The City of Mirrors, Cronin has immersed us in intimate personal history and grand historical tapestries; sometimes in the same moments. By any measure of scope, The City of Mirrors is a success. It’s a blast to read, a ripping yarn that manages to convey personal truth and pointed commentary. All this in a narrative ablaze with monsters.
Cronin as always, does an admirable job at the literary equivalent of “Previously, in The Passage and The Twelve.” It’s an important and telling nod to the reading experience. The three books essentially comprise one enormous novel. Don’t start with The City of Mirrors; go back and read the first two books first. That said, he’s been writing and publishing them beyond the memory of most readers for plot details, so having that précis up front is nice.
But more importantly, with the concluding book in the trilogy, Cronin manages to wrap up his story in a manner that does not feel like simple knot-tying. The City of Mirrors manages the trick of being a satisfying story in itself while also finishing the many stories that began in the previous volumes.
The delight at the core of this novel is that we finally get a good gander at Timothy Fanning, patient Zero and the reason for all the apocalyptic adventures we’ve enjoyed for some startlingly large number of pages. And we meet Fanning not just as the nastiest critter alive, or sort-of alive, but, most engagingly, as the human he was before he was transformed into a monster. And this, of course, has always been the strength of these books. The monsters have recognizable characters and character arcs, as well as being damnably flashy monsters.
All this might be enough in itself, but Cronin offers so much more. The beauty to be found in his protagonists proves to be every bit as engaging as the evil in his villains. His prose can frame a terrorizing battle scene bigger than most anything you could imagine, but it is filled with poetic power in the small moments. His bent for academia, whether it’s to be found in the glory days of Harvard undergrads in the recent past or in pontificating conferences in the distant future, is unerringly enjoyable. Not an easy feat to pull off! And putting together the layers of story across time is a particularly poignant reading experience.
It’s certainly true that all times feel like end times, for better or worse; alas, it’s generally the latter. Cronin’s trilogy, perfectly completed in this ambitious novel, offers both a detailed personal vision and a grand-scale, end-times adventure. The real storytelling feat is not the epic sweep so much as the emotional connection. With this story, Cronin offers us the seemingly self-contradictory vision of an end that we do not want to end.
Given that he’s written three tomes, and done three tours, Justin Cronin is to my mind unexpectedly but happily enthusiastic to talk about all this. He’s gung-ho, even, and our visit lacked only beers and a bar; but that would have made recording difficult, and it was, as it happens, a bit early in the day. What was nice about this conversation, is that we had the opportunity to talk about the work as a whole and illuminate some bits of the latest novel without really giving anything away.
And while we run slightly under my usual time, the fact of the matter is that he talks pretty fast. You get all the content in a percentage of the time! In this apocalyptic, final sentence of the review, you can follow this link to the MP3 audio of our conversation to download the file – or you can experience the post-post-apocalypse without ever leaving your seat or this page by listening below.