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Book Review: Swan Song – Robert R. McCammon

By: Robert R. McCammon
Pocket Books

The president of the United States makes a dire decision to engage in full blown nuclear warfare with the Soviets. With most of society obliterated the few survivors clamber to discover any grasp of hope. Sister Creep, a homeless lady from the streets of New York City discovers a majestic glass ring with glowing jewels and the ability to illuminate clairvoyance circumstances. Josh Hutchins a professional wrestler en route to Kansas for a match meets a gifted young girl named Sue Wanda or Swan for short. Trapped under the ruins of a collapsed convenience store, Josh first becomes privy to Swan’s unusual talent for nurturing plants. Roland, a child war buff geek assists Colonel Macklin in a gruesome dilemma while trapped in a mountain side apocalypse bunker. They form an unholy pact, creating their new macabre militia, simply titled The Army of Excellence.

Sister feels she is somehow destined to find the enigmatic Swan as Josh feels it is his ultimate fate to protect her. As numerous people vie to restore civilization and pick up the pieces of shattered existence including Sister, Swan, Josh and many others the Army of Excellence zeros in demolishing all in their path of destruction.

McCammon’s epic 960 page journey is a dazzling contrast of beauty, an illumination of shimmering color, hypnotic imagery, ruin and damnation. The theme of nuclear war involving the president’s prophetic tendencies transcends unto virtually any era regardless of its late 80’s composition. The tale resonates as equally compelling in the here and now, hitting close to home in consideration of the 911 attacks and the alleged doomsday date of the expired Mayan calendar.

Characteristics highlighted in the protagonists such as Sister Creep’s blind faith, Josh’s devotion or Swan’s purity and innocence are reflective of a brave new world where all of the rules have changed on the obvious exterior landscape and deep within the physiological and psychological interior.

The author’s knowledge or research that must have been involved to illustrate military culture and politics is fascinating as his portrayal of circumstances and interpersonal interaction is conveyed unto laymen’s and war buffs alike. Perhaps most admirably he doesn’t indulge in extravagant exposition or needless jargon. The action moves swiftly at neck breaking pace.

Use of monikers, mantras or philosophies such as Colonel Macklin’s, “discipline and control,” or Sister’s, “One step and the next gets you to where you going,” permeates deep into the psyche long after the tale’s conclusion, accentuating each of the characters realism.

The descriptions of the cancerous like growths that have developed renamed Job’ mask is hideous, gruesome in vivid imagery emphasising the symbolism of inner beauty.

Secondary characters such as Sheila Fontana, Roland Croninger , Artie and Leona are every bit as fundamental and key components as the lead characters unveiling the true grit of the plot.

The parallels between McCammon’s mastodon, post-apocalyptic adventure thriller and Stephen King’s The Stand is common yet not entirely fair. Beyond the surface layers each story is as different as apples and oranges. Both originate with fruit yet have their own unique texture, flavor and consistency. McCammon has proven time and again to be a certifiable story telling machine, continuously dependable and spell binding.

If only one journey of Armageddon proportion can be embarked upon for the balance of 2012 make it Swan Song. You just may see the world through different eyes.

Book Review: Swan Song – Robert R. McCammon

One comment

  1. I read this book for the first time over 20 years ago, thanks to the owner of a used book store recommending it to me. Best book I’ve ever read, hands down!


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