Saturday, November 13, 2004

Willis: Passage - That Bright Tunnel

Connie Willis usually gives us well-researched stories embroidered with solid historical facts, and grounded with realistic characters. If that's what you expect from Passage, you will not be disappointed.

A researcher into near-death-experiences (NDEs), Joanna Lander negotiates the physical maze of a sprawling research hospital, the memory maze of an Alzheimer's patient, the ethical maze of near-death inquiries, the political maze of competition for research subjects, and a metaphysical dream-maze of the last hours on the Titanic. Willis invites us to join her in the unraveling of these interpenetrated passages.

So is this, as one reviewer has it, "Flatliners for thinking people"? What does lie beyond that bright tunnel? Willis' Passage is less an answer than a gradual swapping of metaphors, one for the other. I enjoyed the trip enormously!

As with any of Willis' work, it helps if you have a basic understanding of the historical fabric underpinning her story. A Night to Remember, Walter Lord's classic tale of the sinking of the Titanic, is a better guide than the recent movie. But in this case, she has provided ample clues and quotes to illuminate her scenes and bring the reader along.