Reviews in the Machine: Usher’s Passing by Robert McCammon
This past year seems to have a common theme of me finally getting around to Robert McCammon books that I should have read in high school. Last year I finally cracked the cover on Swan Song and loved it. Now, this year the choice appears to have been Usher’s Passing. And again the result is me wanting to reach back through time and give the teenage version of myself a good slap.
To start, I’ll admit that I haven’t read Poe’s story, The Fall of the House of Usher, another error I should probably correct. My point in bringing it up is that I can’t really speak to the relevance of McCammon’s book to Poe’s work.
This is a stunning book. There is so much history and depth to the narrative, much more than anything I have read in a long time. I would probably place this up there with some of the massive tomes like Swan Song, The Stand, IT, stories that just seem to keep getting larger and at no point do you feel like any of it is excessive. McCammon makes this massive book feel digestible by making the characters completely dynamic and compelling. These are people who I am interested to learn more about and to see where the currents of the story will take them. This is a real family with real history and all I wanted was just more pages.
What’s more, McCammon brilliantly lays out the tension between his main character and his family, after turning his back on their legacy of arms development. A decision that has cost him the massive amounts of money he would likely inherit otherwise, had he not been a cog in the wheel. I loved the emotionally antagonistic father who finds himself in the position of having to reach out for help from a son who has turned on him. Also, the sniveling brother who clearly thinks highly of himself, much more than most of the family. Add a further complication with a sister who is frequently traveling abroad and you have a recipe for perfect levels of conflict that can fester in a family.
Description and atmosphere are also outstanding in this book. Reading this is like sitting down to a really great meal that you don’t want to end. The chef might be going off in all different directions that interest them but every turn seems like the perfect decision.
There’s a lot going on at the same time but McCammon doesn’t seem to have any difficulty keeping so much in the air. He executes the story on many different levels and he clearly put in the necessary groundwork that was needed to write this. There is the history of the family but also the history of the area and the people who live on the mountain around the family estate. It’s a massive amount of work that he managed to make accessible and organized.
The drama is done well and not at all cliché. The tension is real and the elements of horror that work their way into the book are disturbing. There are some frightening monsters in this as well as an abandoned house that raises some chills as well. There were some brilliantly creepy moments throughout, all delivered with the McCammon level of intensity and power.
And I suppose the best possible compliment I can give to a book is that it made me feel inspired to go read another book. I should probably stop hedging and follow through on my so-called “interest” in reading Poe’s story. If nothing else, it could only serve to enhance the context of McCammon’s book. And then, of course, once I read Poe’s story it would give me a convenient excuse to go back once more through the doors of the house of Usher.