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Passage
Cover of Passage
Passage
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One of those rare, unforgettable novels that are as chilling as they are insightful, as thought-provoking as they are terrifying, award-winning author Connie Willis's Passage is an astonishing blend of relentless suspense and cutting-edge science unlike anything you've ever read before.

It is the electrifying story of a psychologist who has devoted her life to tracking death. But when she volunteers for a research project that simulates the near-death experience, she will either solve life's greatest mystery -- or fall victim to its greatest terror.

At Mercy General Hospital, Dr. Joanna Lander will soon be paged -- not to save a life, but to interview a patient just back from the dead. A psychologist specializing in near-death experiences, Joanna has spent two years recording the experiences of those who have been declared clinically dead and lived to tell about it.

It's research on the fringes of ordinary science, but Joanna is about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter. A new doctor has arrived at Mercy General, one with the power to give Joanna the chance to get as close to death as anyone can.

A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Dr. Wright is convinced that the NDE is a survival mechanism and that if only doctors understood how it worked, they could someday delay the dying process, or maybe even reverse it. He can use the expertise of a psychologist of Joanna Lander's standing to lend credibility to his study.

But he soon needs Joanna for more than just her reputation. When his key volunteer suddenly drops out of the study, Joanna finds herself offering to become Richard's next subject. After all, who better than she, a trained psychologist, to document the experience?

Her first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined it would be -- so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why this place is so hauntingly familiar. But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid....

And just when you think you know where she is going, Willis throws in the biggest surprise of all -- a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page is turned.

From the Hardcover edition.

One of those rare, unforgettable novels that are as chilling as they are insightful, as thought-provoking as they are terrifying, award-winning author Connie Willis's Passage is an astonishing blend of relentless suspense and cutting-edge science unlike anything you've ever read before.

It is the electrifying story of a psychologist who has devoted her life to tracking death. But when she volunteers for a research project that simulates the near-death experience, she will either solve life's greatest mystery -- or fall victim to its greatest terror.

At Mercy General Hospital, Dr. Joanna Lander will soon be paged -- not to save a life, but to interview a patient just back from the dead. A psychologist specializing in near-death experiences, Joanna has spent two years recording the experiences of those who have been declared clinically dead and lived to tell about it.

It's research on the fringes of ordinary science, but Joanna is about to get a boost from an unexpected quarter. A new doctor has arrived at Mercy General, one with the power to give Joanna the chance to get as close to death as anyone can.

A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Dr. Wright is convinced that the NDE is a survival mechanism and that if only doctors understood how it worked, they could someday delay the dying process, or maybe even reverse it. He can use the expertise of a psychologist of Joanna Lander's standing to lend credibility to his study.

But he soon needs Joanna for more than just her reputation. When his key volunteer suddenly drops out of the study, Joanna finds herself offering to become Richard's next subject. After all, who better than she, a trained psychologist, to document the experience?

Her first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined it would be -- so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why this place is so hauntingly familiar. But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid....

And just when you think you know where she is going, Willis throws in the biggest surprise of all -- a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climactic page is turned.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One 1

    "More light!"
    —Goethe's last words


    "I heard a noise," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I was moving through this tunnel."

    "Can you describe it?" Joanna asked, pushing the minitape recorder a little closer to her.

    "The tunnel?" Mrs. Davenport said, looking around her hospital room, as if for inspiration. "Well, it was dark..."

    Joanna waited. Any question, even "How dark was it?" could be a leading one when it came to interviewing people about their near-death experiences, and most people, when confronted with a silence, would talk to fill it, and all the interviewer had to do was wait. Not, however, Mrs. Davenport. She stared at her IV stand for a while, and then looked inquiringly at Joanna.

    "Is there anything else you can remember about the tunnel?" Joanna asked.

    "No..." Mrs. Davenport said after a minute. "It was dark."

    "Dark," Joanna wrote down. She always took notes in case the tape ran out or something went wrong with the recorder, and so she could note the subject's manner and intonation. "Closemouthed," she wrote. "Reluctant." But sometimes the reluctant ones turned out to be the best subjects if you just had patience. "You said you heard a noise," Joanna said. "Can you describe it?"

    "A noise?" Mrs. Davenport said vaguely.

    If you just had the patience of Job, Joanna corrected. "You said," she repeated, consulting her notes, "'I heard a noise, and then I was moving through this tunnel.' Did you hear the noise before you entered the tunnel?"

    "No..." Mrs. Davenport said, frowning, "...yes. I'm not sure. It was a sort of ringing..." She looked questioningly at Joanna. "Or maybe a buzzing?" Joanna kept her face carefully impassive. An encouraging smile or a frown could be leading, too. "A buzzing, I think," Mrs. Davenport said after a minute.

    "Can you describe it?"

    I should have had something to eat before I started this, Joanna thought. It was after twelve, and she hadn't had anything for breakfast except coffee and a Pop-Tart. But she had wanted to get to Mrs. Davenport before Maurice Mandrake did, and the longer the interval between the NDE and the interview, the more confabulation there was.

    "Describe it?" Mrs. Davenport said irritably. "A buzzing."

    It was no use. She was going to have to ask more specific questions, leading or not, or she would never get anything out of her. "Was the buzzing steady or intermittent?"

    "Intermittent?" Mrs. Davenport said, confused.

    "Did it stop and start? Like someone buzzing to get into an apartment? Or was it a steady sound like the buzzing of a bee?"

    Mrs. Davenport stared at her IV stand some more. "A bee," she said finally.

    "Was the buzzing loud or soft?"

    "Loud," she said, but uncertainly. "It stopped."

    I'm not going to be able to use any of this, Joanna thought. "What happened after it stopped?"

    "It was dark," Mrs. Davenport said, "and then I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, and—"

    Joanna's pager began to beep. Wonderful, she thought, fumbling to switch it off. This is all I need. She should have turned it off before she started, in spite of Mercy General's rule about keeping it on at all times. The only people who ever paged her were Vielle and Mr. Mandrake, and it had ruined more than one NDE interview.

    "Do you have to go?" Mrs. Davenport asked.

    "No. You saw a light—"

    "If you have to go..."

    "I don't," Joanna said firmly, sticking the pager back in her pocket without looking at it. "It's nothing. You saw a light. Can you describe it?"

    "It was golden," Mrs....
About the Author-
  • Connie Willis has won major awards for her novels and short stories. Her first short-story collection, Fire Watch, was a New York Times Notable Book. Her other works include Doomsday Book, Lincoln's Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Ms. Willis lives in Greeley, Colorado, with her family.

    From the Hardcover...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 1, 2001
    In a departure from her usual historical theme, Willis (Miracle and Other Christmas Stories) pries open the door at the end of the tunnel of Near Death Experience (NDE) while holding firmly to her endearing brand of exasperated humor. Dr. Joanna Lander, a psychologist separating the truth from the expected in NDEs, is talked into working with Dr. Richard Wright (pun intended), a neurologist testing his theory that NDEs are a survival mechanism by simulating them with psychoactive drugs. When navigating the maze of the hospital in which the cafeteria is never open, dodging Mr. Mandrake who writes popular books on NDEs and fabricates most of his accounts and finding uncorrupted participants for their experiments becomes too difficult, Joanna herself goes under. What she finds on the Other Side almost drives her and Richard apart, while solving the mystery of what it means almost drives her mad. Joanna holds nothing back as she searches her mind and her experience; readers will be able to puzzle out the answers just as she does. That this work is less tightly packed than most of Willis's novels somewhat undercuts the tension. Even so, the plot twists, the casual wit and the enjoyable characters will satisfy fans. The shocking occurrence 100 pages from the end is a good indication of Willis's power as a writer.

  • Newsday

    "A true heir to John Donne, Kurt Gödel and Preston Sturges, a wit with a common touch who's read more great books, and makes better use of them in her work, than two or three lit professors put together."

  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Willis has developed an idea that bears all the authority of a genuine insight: disturbingly plausible, compelling, intensely moving, and ultimately uplifting."
  • Chicago Tribune "Thoughtful, often fascinating ... Willis makes Lander's journeys into the afterworld increasingly frightening and compelling."
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