When I first began Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas, I wasn’t sure I would make it to the end. His obsession with justice and his soul mate, Stormy, gave me the sense of a psycho or someone incredibly unbalanced who had to be handled carefully and couldn’t be disturbed from the small world he had built up around him without dire consequences. Maybe it was the excessive use of the word “I” (even though the novel is written in first person), of maybe it was Odd Thomas’ need to explain everything he meant. Take the second paragraph:
I am not a celebrity. I am not the child of a celebrity. I have never been married to, never been abused by, and never provided a kidney transplantation into any celebrity. Furthermore, I have no desire to be a celebrity.
Okay, okay, Odd Thomas, we get it. You don’t want to be famous, but I’m sure some odd circumstances are going to arise that will make you one. I get it. You’re a robot. I mean, the endless descriptions of what Odd Thomas is and isn’t within the first chapter was enough for me to put the book down and give up.
I think I said as much to my friend (who I was supposed to be book clubbing this with before the Dark Tower took hold of my soul and wouldn’t let go), and she kind of shrugged and told me it would get better, that it was good. So I persevered. I ‘got over’ the creepy robot vibes Odd Thomas gave me to make it through the rest of the novel.
And by the time I finished the last page, I thought it had been decent. It reminded me of some advice (or criticism, depending on my mood when I think on it) I got on one of my short stories at a creative writing workshop: it’s nothing spectacular that’s going to rock my world. It’s a standard revised story told in a slightly different way, and I probably won’t remember it beyond the time I read it, but I was entertained enough to keep reading. That’s the point of fiction isn’t it?
It wasn’t Odd Thomas’ gift to help the dead that intrigued me; it was the relationship between his parents and his grandmother that kept me turning the pages. That the reasons he acted the way he did (the reasons listed above that had me thinking he was crazy) were things he was trying to avoid becoming. Insanity runs in his family. He’s terrified he might become like his mother’s family. In some sense, he already has by isolating himself in a city, refusing to leave, staying safe in his niche where he’s somewhat understood and he can maintain mediocrity. I loved the part where he had to re-analyze his relationship with his grandmother (who he adored). He recognized that if he had stayed with her more, he might have revealed things about her that would have destroyed their relationship.
The satanic cult was, well, meh, but learning about how his neighbor had gone quietly crazy after the death of her family, finally coping by believing them to be invisible, showed Odd Thomas as not just a reluctant hero, but one that couldn’t solve all the problems of the grieving with his powers. He couldn’t make her feel better by lying her. He simply made do by telling her she was visible every morning. I admire Odd’s refusal to use a gun. His abhorrence was based on a terrifying experience. Other protagonists have made the decision not to use the human-killing destructive machines, but definitely think that beating someone to dead is a much better alternative.
Sometimes I like to read critically, and by that I suppose I mean that I like to study how the author writes his/her sentences to understand what made them successful or what an agent/publisher might see that would entice them to take this project on. Honestly, I feel like in today’s industry, this novel might not make it far. The novel is full of literary references—apparently our fry cook is hella educated—and the writing wavers between being robotic and incredibly elaborate. Its like purple prose slipped it and just refused to leave in between the sentences that have been almost cut to death.
The sun, nurturing mother of the earth, poured a scalding milk upon the day, boiling some of the blue from the sky and leaving the heavens faded.
Um, what? Or even this:
The brilliant Mojave day burned at white-hot ferocity. The air itself seemed to be on fire, as if the sun—by speed of light, less than eight and a half minutes from Earth—had gone nova eight minutes ago, giving us nothing more than this dazzling glare as a short warning of our impending bright death.
I can hear my professor’s red pen already drawing a line through the last half of that paragraph and adding CUT just in case I didn’t get the memo. I don’t know anything about the desert—I’m a northern girl, bred on snow and ice, so the differences in the Mojave’s heat just might not compute here. Koontz has an exact feeling he wants to impart, and he does everything in his power to ensure that the reader eliminates any other feeling/experience beyond what Koontz directly feels.
Other times in his prose, he’s spot on:
My blush was redder than the spreading dawn beyond the windows.
In the long run, there are questions that I’m interested in that still need answers. What happened to his aunt? What happened when he appeared at the chief’s door, half-drowned and chained to two corpses? I want to know Odd’s past more than I want to know his future. The desire is strong enough for me to pick up the next book.
Which I did for $1.50 at a fundraising event. What can I say? I’m a book sale junkie.
So while Odd Thomas’ story will continue to live another day on my bookshelves and he came out of the attack at the Green Moon Mall alive but shattered by the death of his one true love, I’m reminded about the brutal attacks on Paris that recently happened. In my quest for information from the news and social media, I came across a post by a stranger (didn’t know who it was, but one of my friends had reposted it) asking why America responded so strongly to the attacks on Paris when Lebanon had been attacked in a very similar brutal fashion. She demanded to know why America provided such support for one country while completely ignoring another.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a post before. I was at the point where I was crafting a lengthy reply to her questions, but as I’m not one to engage strangers in political discussion on Facebook, I tried to let it go. Not acting kept me up all night.
I understand her point. I feel for the people who have lost their lives—from Lebanon to Paris—and I see why she would think that America is choosing favorites, but there is a history to consider, one that spans back to the Revolutionary War. The United States and France have been allies since France decided to help USA’s claim for independence. We fought with them and for them in both World Wars. One of the USA’s biggest classic symbols—the Statue of Liberty—was designed and crafted by a Frenchman who dedicated the statue to the United States. Our two countries have had an incredible and strong relationship built on mutual respect. We might not have agreed on all things, but we’ve been on the same side of the fence, fought for the same ideals, had an exchange of ideas and beliefs. We have an immense alliance—an incredible history—that would make us incredibly sympathetic to the attacks on their city.
I’ve walked the streets of Paris. A young French waitress patiently waited me on as I tried to order a croque-monsieur with high-school level French. I wasn’t worried about being in Paris because I was American. I don’t appreciate being made to feel guilt or shame for grieving with France because I did not grieve as strongly for Lebanon. I think that the citizens of the USA already carry a lot of shame for the things we did not do—or have been accused of doing/not doing in the name of trying to do good for the world—and then have this throw back at us under the banner of not caring enough.
That being said, I feel for her and I do feel for the attacks that have happened worldwide, but I refuse to feel bad for my compassion for France—refuse to be shamed for my anger that Paris was attacked in such a way—just because I don’t feel the exact same way for her country. It isn’t fair, and it might especially not be fair for one woman such as I am to declare, but to me that post felt like a direct accusation that my reaction wasn’t right or good enough.
Maybe I am an Odd Thomas robot. Maybe I’m insensitive, but I won’t let social media turn this around and make me go into some self-reflection nonsense of why we can’t all be equal, demand a reason for why a mother loves her children more than she loves all the children in the world equally, make the United States look bad for reacting so strongly to the destruction one of our oldest allies has been through. I’m not generally so patriotic, and I’m not usually this combative, but the fact that I couldn’t sleep because of what one woman said hundreds of miles away made me believe that it was okay to say what I thought too.