Passage by Connie Willis


Science Fiction

Passage PassageConnie Willis; Bantam Books 2002WorldCat

Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist at Mercy Hospital in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in NDE – near death experience. When a patient comes into the hospital, codes, and is revived, she interviews them regarding their experiences while they were “dead” for those few minutes. She is trying to put together an objective study on the phenomenon. But there are a few problems with her study and her life at Mercy Hospital.

One of her biggest headaches is Maurice Mandrake, the acclaimed author of The Light at the End of the Tunnel, his book about the afterlife. He is, in her opinion, a fraud, and convinces the people he interviews that they have had a religious, supernatural experience during their “dead” periods. This, he claims, proves there is life after death for everyone. Another is one of the patients that Mandrake reached first, Mrs. Davenport. She keeps remembering and expanding her experience in the NDE. Whenever she “remembers” something new, she insists on contacting Dr. Lander.

Then there is her best friend, Vielle, who is a head nurse in ER Joanna is afraid Vielle will get injured working down there. There is Maisie Neller, the young girl in Pediatrics whose heart is failing. Joanna enjoys being with her, but has trouble getting away once Maisie has her attention.

Dr. Richard Wright arrives at Mercy hospital. He is also studying the NDE experience, but in a different manner. He has discovered a way to recreate the experience without the patient having to be clinically dead first. He has found a drug that will recreate the same state and trigger the NDE. He convinces Joanna to become his partner in this study. When they have volunteer problems after the study begins, she becomes one of the subjects as well as a clinician. What she sees during her NDE starts her on a quest to discover just what is really happening in her brain.

Once again, Connie Willis has written an intriguing, plausible novel that keeps the reader pulled in. She holds to the main story in Passage, but adds those details that are her trademark of the frustrations of every day life. At Mercy Hospital, no one ever knows when, or if, the cafeteria is open. They are wisest to assume it is closed. The saying of “you can’t get there from here” applies because stairwells and hallways are always closed for painting. This is an old hospital that has a hodge podge of buildings with no logical connections between them.

As I began to predict where Passage was going, Willis pulled a major punch with the characters. After that, I had to go along for her ride. My medical knowledge is not strong enough to know if the study presented here is feasible, but Willis is grounded in her science and makes this quite believable. The details of setting up the clinical research are on the money. The book is believable; the characters are people I would like to know. And I really would like to know the true origins for the name for their weekly movie night, “Dish Night.”

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