What’s The Passenger all about?:
The Passenger follows a man who has spent his whole life on an airplane in a strange, dystopian world where a whole civilisation are born, fall in love, reproduce and die all on the plane.
What did I think?:
You know how short story collections are sometimes a bit hit and miss? There’s those stories that you absolutely love and you could wax on for ages about how talented the author is? Then there’s those stories that make you hang your head, shake it a little and wonder if somehow you might be missing something? Well, The Passenger falls somewhere in between for me. I would never compare it to The Jesus Stories, (which I might have disliked a little bit!) but at the same time, there’s better stories in this collection, for example The Ceiling, which was a magnificent piece of writing.
So where do I start? Okay, there are lots of positive things about this story, especially the premise. We are inside the mind of one male passenger on an airplane and he is talking about his mother’s death and how her body was dealt with after she died (by dropping it out of the plane of course!). I was completely confused and it wasn’t until a couple of pages in that I realised that this story was about a strange new world where all the passengers of this particular plane live out their whole lives on that plane. They don’t land, pick up new passengers etc so any new life has to be initiated by passengers currently on the plane getting it on.
Absolutely fascinating premise and there was so much potential for this story to do amazing things….however….it just ended up as a bit of a damp squib for me. Our male protagonist mentions an encounter with the woman in the seat in front of him that leads to a sexual experience and his belief that she is currently carrying his child, even if she has not spoke to him or even deigned to make eye contact since the experience occurred. What irked me about the story was that it didn’t seem to go anywhere. There were bucket-loads of questions that I wanted answered and I left it feeling so unsatisfied and disappointed. For example, how did they end up in this situation? Was there an incident on land that led to flying in a plane being the safest option? Is this incident still going on and they are doomed to fly for all eternity? How on earth do they manage to fly around without refuelling? And what about food/water supplies?
Questions like these may not matter to some people and they might be able to enjoy the wonder and mystery of it all but I really needed a reason to keep reading. I was interested for sure but then cursed myself for being so interested as I never got the answers to what I needed to know! The beauty of Kevin Brockmeier’s writing is undeniable and it was a brilliant idea for a story BUT… am I missing something? I’d love to know if you’ve read this short story and got something out of it that I didn’t. I was slightly tempted to read it again to see if I’d missed a trick somewhere but to be honest, I didn’t want to get cross with it all again! I must urge that the author is a fantastic writer – maybe this story was just too much for me.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY CHALLENGE: Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You