The Passenger Summary

The Passenger is a 2022 novel centered on the lives of siblings Bobby and Alicia Western.

  • In 1980s New Orleans, Bobby Western works as a salvage diver and grieves for his sister, Alicia, who suffered from schizophrenia and died by suicide.
  • Alicia’s story is narrated through flashbacks, depicting her life as a precocious university student and her hallucinations of a figure called The Kid.
  • After a job examining the wreckage of a plane crash, Bobby becomes the subject of a mysterious federal investigation and flees to Spain.

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Last Updated on January 3, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 741

The novel opens with graphic imagery depicting the suicide of Alicia Western, a young and beautiful mathematician who has experienced schizophrenic hallucinations since the onset of adolescence. The chapters which follow are divided into Alicia’s story, which comes first, and her brother Bobby Western’s story. Since Alicia’s life has already ended, the segments of each chapter containing her stories are written as flashbacks, using italics to visually denote the past. Bobby Western’s story is written in his present, set mostly in New Orleans in the early 1980s.

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Alicia’s segments center on her hallucinations, focusing on her interactions with The Kid, a short creature with flipper-like hands. He can be crude and is almost always forthright with her, chiding her for her appearance and scoffing at her choices. Particularly in her younger years, Alicia often asks The Kid to leave her alone, but as she grows older, she finds an unexplainable sense of comfort in his visits. When Alicia takes her medications, the hallucinations disappear; she finds various reasons over the years to avoid taking the drugs. Alicia is witty and self-aware, and she is never frightened by the various hallucinations who most often occupy her bedroom. However, she comments at one time that she wishes she had never existed at all, and the opening scene serves as a constant reminder that Alicia does truly suffer from her mental illness.

Bobby Western’s story opens with the thrilling and mysterious investigation of plane wreckage which he has been hired to investigate as a salvage diver. He immediately recognizes that the black box is missing, and he soon learns that a passenger from the plane is missing as well. Western and his friend and coworker Oiler are convinced that some sort of illicit circumstances have transpired, resulting in the need to cover up crimes which have been committed surrounding the plane crash. They then become the focal points of an investigation into the case, and Western’s apartment is broken into twice by people who go through all of his belongings. Western attempts to conduct his own investigation regarding the missing passenger and locates a raft on a nearby island which he believes the missing person used to escape from the plane wreckage. When the investigative efforts become more intense, Western hires Kline to advise him on his options. Kline offers to give Western a completely new identity for a decent sum of money, but Western stalls while making the decision. In the meantime, the government freezes his financial assets, and Western quickly loses options.

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The plot doesn’t follow an expected linear structure based on this initial conflict. Instead, the subsequent chapters detail Bobby Western’s rather ordinary life in spite of being the subject of a governmental investigation. He meets with friends at restaurants and chats with other friends over drinks. Their topics of conversation range from the mechanics of racing to complex principles of physics to the incredible grief which is a certainty in life. Western visits his grandmother in Tennessee, desperately searches for his cat after investigators scare it away, and spends an entire winter hiding out in a mice-infested farmhouse in Idaho.

The final chapter of the novel begins without Alicia’s story and instead solely focuses on Western. He has moved to Spain and moves freely among the locals in a beach community. Western lives in a windmill and seems intimately connected to nature at this point in life, taking time to watch the sea at night, smelling almond blossoms on a morning walk beside the sea, and enjoying “drinks and good Spanish dishes” with a couple of friends. Sheddan comes to visit Western one final time, explaining that “in the end what we have to offer is only what we’ve lost.” 

One day, a letter arrives from Akron, Ohio, but Western refuses to open it. Instead, he hands it back to the deliverer, João, explaining that he doesn’t know anyone in the United States anymore and that he doesn’t want any letters from there. João considers this and then comments that he will hold on to the letter because “people change their minds.” 

In the final scene, Western is preparing for bed. As he blows out the lamp, he knows that at his own moment of death, Alicia’s face will return to him so that he can “carry that beauty into the darkness with him.”

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