Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Odd Hours: Dean Koontz Keeps Reader Up Late

Reflection on Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas.  Bantam Books, Kindle Edition. First published 2003.

Note: I just learned of a movie adaptation of Odd Thomas .   Other news on the web explains that this film may never be seen. Other sites say that it's scheduled to open in Finland in August.  Dean Koontz is "whacked flat happy" about it.  Here's  a link to the trailer:

Skipping from the latest book of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas series backwards to the first one, I’m officially hooked.   Near midnight, I wasn’t willing to sleep on the last gruesome image or anticipated danger, and I read straight to the end.  Is that a silly response to a book about ghosts and demons and premonitions? 
Odd World
A grown-up can pooh-pooh the paranormal and still leave room for it in the imagination.  Early in this novel, Odd passes through an ordinary door into a dark and chilly world.  It didn’t have to be a wardrobe for me to see that this series is like C. S. Lewis’s Narnia for a more contemporary, more grown-up audience, placing our ordinary planet at ground zero in a cosmic battle of good v. evil.

Through Odd, Koontz explicitly ties paranormal fantasy with something compatible to orthodox Christian faith:

Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous... (Kindle edition: location 2179)

He’s got that right.  When I’m reading the Bible or a work of fiction, my mind inhabits two worlds simultaneously.  Why should it be hard to accept that a spiritual world intersects ours?   More to the point:  I want to believe that there’s a larger world framing this one. 

Besides, reality itself is pretty hard to believe.  Koontz grounds his novels in a fact that’s hard to accept:  While we can perceive beauty, affection, humor, and courage around us,  we must also confront the presence of sordid, malignant humans among us, and dark feelings in ourselves. 

Odd Pleasures
It’s not the supernatural element that makes me want to read.  I enjoy spending time with this character named Odd. 

The author presents these books as chapters in a memoir by a 20-ish-year-old young man whose gifts are frying foods and seeing spirits.  The love of his life is a girl named Bronwen “Stormy” Llewellyn, and their two characters are encapsulated in a brief argument.  He, with a premonition of danger, warns her to stay home.  She says she will, if he’ll stay with her.  He replies…

“We’ve been through this.  I can’t let people die if there’s a way to spare them.”

“And I’m not going to live even one day in a cage just because there’s a loose tiger….”

Feeling obligated to help where he can, Odd opens doors to uncertain danger and rushes through the fleeing mob towards the gunman.    Stormy’s attitude is another version of the same courage:  she won’t let caution paralyze her.  Their brands of courage are endearing and, I have to admit, motivational. 

Odd’s gratitude for Stormy’s loving him is a sweet core for a story haunted by Timothy McVeigh, Charles Manson, and Mohammed Atta.   Unlike other mass murderers in the bad guy’s files, none of these three killed alone.  They had “family” or “brotherhood.”  Their evil communities contrast to the surrogate family that grows up around Odd and envelops him in its arms at the memorable end of the novel.   Koontz has made Odd a virtual orphan, unloved by parents each wrapped up in delusions.  The father devotes himself to maintaining his ideas of youth and studliness.   The mother is a couple turns screwier than Blanche DuBois,  cordial to her son until he asks for help: she decrees that her home must be a problem-free zone.  But other characters love Odd: the 400-pound writing mentor, the fatherly police chief, and the motherly owner of the diner where Odd works.  Even the spirit of Elvis takes Odd’s hand in both of his own and expresses heartfelt sympathy silently (for spooks don’t speak, we’re told). 

Odd’s background makes him sensitive to others who feel unloved and unlovable.   Past midnight, Odd has traveled to a deserted brothel outside of town to dispose of a bad guy’s body, when he encounters the spirit of a young prostitute murdered on that spot some years before.   In Odd’s world, spirits hang around if they have unfinished business, or if they fear what awaits them in the next world.   He intuits her whole life:  unloved, homeless, seeking any kind of affection, she is ashamed of herself, afraid of punishment.  He assures her that she will find love in the next life.   She listens intently, and waits while he drives away, “coyotes resting on the ground at her feet, as if she were the goddess Diana between one hunt and another, mistress of the moon and all its creatures.”

It’s a scene of little consequence to the unfolding of the story, a lovely image and one of many incidental pleasures I’ve found now at both ends of Koontz’s series.  It’s time to dig into the volumes in the middle.

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