Friday, July 4, 2008

Odd Hours and The Why of it All

I finished Odd Hours, the latest novel from Dean Koontz, this morning. This is the second series from Mr. Koontz, and the protagonist is perhaps his most singular creation. Odd Thomas is 20 or 21, I'm not exactly sure which, and a fry cook on the, well, not exactly run, but more, journey towards his life's purpose. He can also see dead people.

This series seems to polarize Koontz fans more than any other of his works. The Odd Thomas novels are more overtly spiritual, and Odd is both a smartass and radical humility embodied. His point of view comes out very well in this passage, which was pointed out by one of the regular posters in Usenet group alt.books.dean-koontz:

"Grief can destroy you -- or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn't allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it's over and you're alone, you begin to see it wasn't just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can't get off your knees for a long time, you're driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life."

I'm on the side of those who really like this series. I believe that humility, courtesy, and sense of humor go a long way toward making a livable society.

Odd Hours has something that, to me, sets it apart not only from the rest of the Odd Thomas series but Mr. Koontz's entire body of work. It is a palpable sense of place. I feel that the the book is more grounded, that Magic Harbor is more tangible that his other settings, which makes both the supernatural and thriller elements of the novel more effective. Mr. Koontz has been quoted, prior to this novel, that he felt he had an open-ended series; now, he believes that it will end after seven novels. This book feels like a turning point, like the story is moving in a much darker direction than before. It reminds me a bit of another seven book series about a young man learning his place in the world, another series that took a much darker turn in book four.

It's also intriguing to find possible connections to other Koontz works: Odd's sweat shirt that says "Mystery Train" on the front; a lightning bolt on a manhole cover, signifying perhaps the resumption of a long delayed war against an ancient enemy of humanity.

I heartily recommend the Odd Thomas series, but the books should be read in publication sequence: Odd Thomas, Forever Odd, Brother Odd, and Odd Hours. There is a new graphic novel, In Odd We Trust, which is a prequel to the series, but I haven't read it yet.

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