"The Ferryman" | Reviewed by Nelson Appell
“The Ferryman,” by Justin Cronin, is an immersive summer read—an enthralling literary -sci fi mystery novel that surprises you with major revelations. It satisfies on many levels.
I have several other movies and novels in mind to compare this novel with. But to name them would spoil “The Ferryman.” It’s best to read this novel knowing only the basic premise.
The community of Prospera rests on an island somewhere in the warm equatorials. Prospera’s citizens enjoy a peaceful existence, sheltered from the world’s descent into climate chaos. They live extraordinarily long lives in their utopian paradise. But when their embedded health monitors fall below 10 percent, they retire from life. They take a ferry to another island, known as The Nursery, where their aging bodies are somehow de-aged, and they return to a new life. But their memories are gone.
Proctor Bennett is a ferryman, whose job is to help move people through the final stages of life and into reiteration. The position requires great empathy and understanding for the individual about to retire. Meanwhile, Proctor is struggling mentally. Proctor’s mother committed suicide when he was young, and he has become distant from his father. Proctor has also been dreaming, perhaps the only Prosperan who dreams.
Unhappy and restless in his life, Prosper yearns for… something. He is uneasy. He meets a mysterious girl on the beach. He receives some cryptic messages that he feels are important. And a retirement he oversees goes wrong. These incidents propel him to seek answers and unearth the meaning that lies behind these messages.
Meanwhile, the support staff of Prospera, secondary citizens who live in huddled, decrepit neighborhoods out of sight of Prospera, start to revolt. They are protesting the fascist, heavy-handed treatment they receive from Prospera.
If you find yourself wondering if this is all going to make sense, the answer is yes. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, everything changes and the past events can be re-interpreted in light of the revelations. I’m still sorting through it all.
Cronin touches upon our relationship to the environment, social classes and enforcement, ambition and bureaucracy, and the discontent of leisure. But above all else this novel is powered by love, and that will become more and more apparent by the end of the novel.
I will say no more, and if you enjoy a sci-fi mystery that keeps you guessing, this one comes highly recommended.