By Justin Cronin
I wasn’t going to review this book because it is the third in a trilogy in which I’ve already discussed the first two. However, the third book pissed me off so much that I had to rant. I am also about to spoil the hell of this book, starting right now, though I’ll throw a page break in before the more specific spoilers.
The City of Mirrors has a problem, and that problem is Timothy Fanning. The character Fanning is also known as “Zero,” as in Patient Zero, the original vampire. He is the main villain of the whole series, having orchestrated the spread of the vampire virus purposefully, though he has stayed mostly behind the scenes in the first two books.
Unfortunately, in the third book we get a much more in-depth look, via a 100-PAGE MONOLOGUE in which he gives his entire history, starting almost from birth, and it is just the most undiluted example of white male entitlement that I think I have ever read. I really wanted to believe that this was on purpose, to make a commentary on how dangerous this kind of unacknowledged privilege can be, but I had increasing suspicions that Cronin intended it to create a more complex villain with a sympathetic backstory. The monologue itself was insufferable, but the recipient of it, a previously strong woman, appears to receive it with sympathy and understanding.
Here’s where I’m about the spoil the hell of this book, by sharing a breakdown of his backstory.
Fanning is from a rural town with caring but somewhat emotionally distant parents. He feels intellectually above his peers there, and leaves for Harvard for college, where he quickly becomes friends with several scions of the East Coast wealthy elite. He falls in love with his best friend’s girlfriend, Liz, almost on first sight, and even though she occasionally seems to return his interest, she marries her boyfriend after graduation. Fanning, heartbroken, then cuts off all contact with them, until decades later when Liz calls him to say that she is dying and would like to see him again. She is still married, but they start an affair and decide to run off to a tropical island to spend her last days together. However, on the day that they are supposed to meet at the train station, she never shows up.
Distraught at being apparently stood up, Fanning gets drunk at a bar and goes home with woman he meets there, who used to be one of his students. Once at her place, she changes her mind, and he kills her while attempting to rape her. After running away from the scene, he gets a call from a hospital saying that Liz had been brought in earlier that day, had given them his name, but then had died.
Now, Fanning is so overcome by the turn that his life has taken that he joins an expedition to South America, mostly in order to flee the law, which is starting to tie him to the murder. It is on this expedition that he catches vampiritis. So sad! So very, very tragic. Who could possibly have had a harder life? Certainly not the two woman who died during his time of crisis.
I did my best to ignore all insinuations in the book that I should feel at all sorry for Fanning, and just focused on the face that he was the villain. Unfortunately, after he is vanquished and destroyed, his soul is cleansed and he finds himself on a beautiful beach, where his long-lost love is waiting for him. In my head, she tells him to go fuck himself. I think I blacked out the actual end of the scene out of rage.
So, to recap the trilogy: Book 1 is really dense with a wide variety of unique characters and perspectives; Book 2 flattens the characters into more traditional and generic gender stereo-types; and Book 3 features some of the most selfish and self-centered male characters that I have read in a long time. (I decided in the interest of brevity to focus on the most egregious character, but believe me, the other men in the book are no prizes.)
The really crazy thing to me is that in the first book’s afterward, Cronin discusses how the young girl protagonist is inspired by his daughter. While she is one of the few female characters who is not raped, she becomes such a symbolic cypher in the later books, simply moving along the plot and the male characters’ motivations. I can’t quite wrap my mind around why Cronin chose to erase all personality and individualism from a stand-in for his own daughter.