Posts Tagged 'Dean Koontz'

What the Night Knows

 A couple of posts back, I mentioned coming upon a new Dean Koontz book in the grocery store and impulsively buying it, seeing as it filled a need I had decided I had that same morning — the need for a good book to read that would keep me from getting too active and exhausting myself in my “recovery” from surgery. That book was What the Night Knows.

I love the title. And the cover!

As I also mentioned, I read pretty much all that afternoon — not straight through the story, but skimming over all the “irrelevant” scenes to find the answers to questions I just couldn’t wait for.  AFter all, I wasn’t “officially” reading the book yet, just dipping my toe in the water. In this case, it was a good thing, because I was hoping something would happen that didn’t, was in fact, the opposite of what he was doing.

After that, other things, including continued bouts of tiredness, took up my time and I made minimal progress until this weekend. Starting from where I began skimming, I read it all the way through and finished it last night.

Koontz is, as multiple reviewers point out, a master at what he does. His characterizations, descriptions, pacing, humor, plot twists… are all top of the line. In this book I especially loved how he gave each of the protagonist’s three children a distinct voice when he was writing from their point of view. There was the 13-year-old wanna be Marine, Zachary; the 11-almost-12 diva, Naomi, who was in love with life — and hats — her perception cloaking almost everything in her periphery with an aura of magic and wonder; and 8-going-on-9 Minette, or Minnie, the wise beyond her years “baby” of the family who alone of all of them had the best grasp of the evil that stalked them. They are great kids — funny, individual, typically kids in the way they interact with each other, annoying, pestering, teasing… but also loyal and loving. Probably a bit more thoughtful and mature than the general run of kids, but seeing as they’ve been homeschooled, this was not too much of a stretch for me. They reminded me in a way of the Narnia kids…

The story begins with their father, Detective John Calvino, investigating the recent group-murder of an entire family that eerily echoes in numerous precise details the first of a string of family murders that occurred twenty years previously. John’s parents and sisters had been the fourth family to die in that previous string, before John himself, at age 14, shot the murderer dead in their home. Now he increasingly comes to suspect the ghost of the original murderer has somehow come back from the grave to start anew, and he fears his own family is on the list of new victims-to-be.

There was much to ponder as I read, and after I finished, as well. Koontz explores the depravity of man, demon possession, the intervention of God, guilt, sacrificial love, and redemption — this latter not, I’m sorry to say, through the agency of Christ, but rather a man’s willingness to lay down his life for his family as a sort of penance…  But regardless of whether I agree with Koontz’s position there, it still draws my thoughts to the subject and provides occasion for contemplation and clarification of my own understanding.

One of the things I was particularly interested in was the unfolding of what is in essence a spiritual battle against forces of evil, a battle our culture has managed to delegitimize. Battles against evil spirits and tales of possession, vampires, etc, might abound in movies, books and video games but mostly people don’t believe any of that is real. Granted the true battle is largely invisible and involves thoughts and words more than the physical attacks of a possessed psychopath, but even an invisible battle is difficult for many to swallow, perhaps because the physical battles as portrayed in the above mentioned outlets are so outside of anything they’ve ever seen in real life they can’t help but throw the baby out with the bath water.

Koontz played off this reluctance to believe in supernatural battles. When John is finally forced to tell his boss not only what he suspects but why (to explain why he has been breaking regulations in the things he’s been doing) his boss immediately assumes he’s having psychological problems and gives him thirty days’ leave.

When he goes to his parish priest, he is told, “We’ve come a long way in the past hundred years, and further with every passing decade. But the full flowering of the faith in our time is delayed by medieval ideas that make the Church seem hopelessly credulous. Faith isn’t superstition, John. Superstition is a stain on faith, a perversion of the religious impulse and possibly a fatal corruption of it.”

When John attempts to clarify what he takes for a misunderstanding, the man adds, “In an age of nuclear weapons, we don’t need Hell and demons, succubi and incubi and hungry vampires on the doorstep. We need food banks…thrift shops, homeless shelters and the courage to express our faith in social action.”

He then gives John the name and number of a psychiatrist who is a “good man” and will be able to help him.

John’s partner later comes to believe the threat is real, as do all the members of John’s family who have each experienced their own encounters with the evil spirit. Naturally, the reader does as well, having been present with each viewpoint as the story unfolds and in that experience willingly suspending disbelief.

Late in the tale John speaks to another priest, a defrocked former exorcist who does believe in demons and evil. The ex-priest brings up the matter of divine interventions in delivering people from demon possession, implying that is the only real hope he can offer John in the matter. He even points out the disparity that exists between believing that a demon might actually be tormenting them, but not that God might also be present and willing to deliver them.

“Is your willingness to believe so elastic,” asks the ex-priest, “that it can stretch that far?”

 “I’ve seen the demonic,”  John replies. “If it’s real, so is its opposite.”

Yay! 

Sort of.  Because the opposite reasoning can also be applied. That is, “I don’t believe in demons — I’ve never seen any actual manifestation of demon activity — and so I don’t believe in God, either. Nothing supernatural for me. All truth resides in the mind and understanding of man and must stand up to the rigors of the scientific method, must give measurable physical proof of its existence in order to qualify as truth.”

Or, slightly less antagonistic, believing  only in a God who is impersonal, remote and primarily occupied with things other than what’s going on on earth.

Oddly, in the end  Koontz seems to buy into the latter notion, for even as he writes in some detail of the personality, motivations and nature of the demon, who is extremely up close and personal with his victims, God on the other hand is portrayed as largely uninvolved, deigning to intervene only occasionally and only in the most dire circumstances — though even in those He is not consistent.  When He does intervene, He does so by means of proxies — either “innocent” children or loyal animals or both — and apparently requires some sort of worthy action on the part of at least one party among the rescued.

In fact there is much made in this story of  innocence and purity being the protection against possession, while sin and weakness and deception are the doorways for it. By this template, any adult or adolescent male child can, almost at any time, be possessed, if a demon is about. We all have weaknesses. We all sin. We are all deceived in some way or other. Only the truly saintly, of which there are almost none, says the former exorcist, can be assured of protection.

This is the God of religion, I think. The God of the natural mind, for the natural mind always wants to make things hinge on itself, on things the creature has done, rather than celebrating what the Creator has done. On the power and integrity of the creature rather than that of the Creator.

More and more God is showing me that it is the latter that is the only thing that really matters: What He has done. Who He is.

And that is not the message of this story; instead it celebrates the basic goodness of a man, the power of human love and a man’s decision to sacrifice for his family. That is what we are to applaud.

It is a common theme in Koontz’s work, and, I’m sure, one of the reasons he has become a best-selling novelist. But ultimately, man is not basically good, human love is weak and while self-sacrifice is laudable, it’s nothing compared to the sacrifice of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, particularly when you consider that it was done for those who were at the time His enemies.

The Darkest Evening of the Year

In keeping with my theme for the week of dog related posts, I thought I’d put up my thoughts of that Dean Koontz novel I mentioned having read last week.

Published in paperback in 2007 Koontz’s The Darkest Evening of the Year is first off a paean to the Golden Retriever in particular (They sound like fabulous dogs — except for the hair) and dogs in general.

He also touched a bit on his “dogs are the way to redeem a wounded/wretched/evil soul” theology which I first encountered it in One Door Away from Heaven. That was more in passing. This is much more developed.

Not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. (Quigley is SO not a Golden Retriever!)

Since Koontz is now on his second Golden, and works with the organizations that provide service dogs to people with disabilities, I am sure he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the temperament and behavior of the breed. I mentioned in my previous post about the Wonder Dog Chancer, that 70% of Goldens, Labradors and German Shepherds pass the service dog training course, whereas only 2% of other breeds do. I doubt any hounds would ever even be considered. I cannot imagine Quigley sitting patiently on the patio deck, unleashed, waiting for “permission” to join his friends frolicking in the water as the Goldens are said to do in this book.

The only time Quigley sits patiently is at dinner time when he sits between my hubby and me watching us eat, waiting for the moment we are done and the plates will go into the dishwasher whereupon he will attempt to get in a few licks…

But I digress. I read the book mostly in one day and finished it up the second night. I was never bored, I didn’t think it took too long to get into… in fact, I loved his wordcraft. Here’s the start:

Behind the wheel of the Ford Expedition,  Amy Redwing drove as if she were immortal and therefore safe at any speed.

In the fitful breeze, a funnel of golden sycamore leaves spun along the post-midnight street. She blasted through them, crisp autumn scratching across the windshield.

I especially like the way he turned “autumn” into a thing that scratches the windshield

I wept unrestrainedly during his depiction of the euthanasia of the above-mentioned Amy Redwing’s first retriever. The whole thing was so much like what I went through with Bear, it was like living it again… Very poignant. Very well done.

And despite Koontz’s weirdness regarding the spiritual efficacy of having a relationship with a dog, there was a place where, though at first his character ridiculed the idea of the Rapture, he nevertheless got the point of God’s perfect righteousness dead on:

…if God existed, a God of pure love, then for sure there had to be a purgatory, because you would need a place of purification before you dared go upstairs for the Ultimate Hug. Even a sweet woman like Mrs. Bonnaventura, rapturing directly from this life to God’s presence, would detonate as violently as anti-matter meeting matter, like in that old episode of Star Trek.”  (pg 173-4)

Cool! Exactly why Jesus had to become a man and go to the cross and why God had to create in us a new creature at the point of salvation,  give us His righteousness, and will make for each believer a new resurrection body for eternity. Because we ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God and there is none righteous, no not one. (Ro 3: 1o;23)  I’ve thought before that sin and God are sort of like matter and anti-matter… Except that only the anti-matter (ie sinful creature) would detonate when it came into contact with God because God is immutable.

Of course that wasn’t the direction that Koontz took the matter, but it’s exciting to come across a statement of truth like that when you’re not expecting it.

The story centers around the special Golden Retriever Amy Redwing rescues from an imminent beating at the very beginning, who was…

… …

SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

… …

…I guess, possessed or indwelt by the spirits? souls? of her long-dead first dog and baby daughter. At the end this special Golden with subtle supernatural powers resuscitates the heroes who have both been killed in their attempts to stop the villains.

Readers on Amazon didn’t like this and many complained bitterly, calling it a hideous Deus ex Machina. Except technically, I don’t think it was.

As I understand it, the term comes from the Greek dramas where everything would be going wrong by the end of the play, and then the god would be lowered in on a platform to clean up the mess and restore order. But in this case, by the time of the resuscitation, the story was over, the problems solved, the villains dealt with. Yes the resuscitation definitely made for a happy ending, but I think it also played along one of the main threads he’d been weaving through the story. That is, that there are forces beyond our ken, that there is divine grace and a purpose to this life.  There are second chances.

The villains were all about living in the moment because, they thought, there was nothing else. No God, no mysteries, no meaning, only self and satisfying self.

In that it fit right in with messages I’d been receiving from my pastor shortly before and while I was reading the book. About the old man, the one that’s been crucified with Christ, and how it’s only and always about self. What’s in it for me? How do I feel? What am I going to do? What did I do wrong? How can I do better? What do I want? What did I not get? Etc.

To be sure, the villains in this piece were not that introspective, but even that was more in keeping with their in-the-moment approach. They were more like, “I want to [have sex/ eat a sandwich/ torment a child/ go to the desert/ burn down a house] right now.” So they got up and did it. Now. They also thought way more highly of themselves then they ought, but that’s typical of villains.

Anyway, I think this last quote encapsulates one of the book’s main themes and one of the things I liked most about it:

“Born in a tornado, Brian had considerable respect for the chaos that nature could spawn and for the sudden order — call it fate — that was often revealed when the apparent chaos clarified.”

Which has kind of been playing out in my life lately – especially in my writing life!

The Post That Wouldn’t and Other Things

A gaggle of geese in So California

 

Well, for two days I’ve been working on a post that just will not go right, so I decided to set it aside and dash off an update of sorts. (I thought I had it almost done last night, then realized I’d misread the quote I was commenting on. So back to the drawing board this morning, stripping out all the parts that didn’t apply. I keep rewriting it and seeing something else amiss, wondering if I should just ditch it, but for some reason keep feeling like I should go on.)

Anyway yesterday I pruned the second of the pair of my mother’s roses I brought home last summer. Now I will get to see with my own eyes how the pruning process works (this after all those lessons last fall about God pruning us). Already there are tons of buds on both plants. And in some cases even tiny bunches of leaves. This may not be a good thing on February 1, since if we get another cold spell everything would be killed. But it wouldn’t be the first time. It was 71 here this afternoon, blue skies, wispy clouds…absolutely BEAUTIFUL weather.

When I called the City of Tucson last week, I was told by the recording to leave a message and that someone would call me back as soon as they could. I left a message. They never called me back. I didn’t call them back, either, because later that day I discovered the mail forwarding order for getting my mother’s mail sent to me, and it didn’t expire for a year. So I was able to relax about all that. A couple of days later I got the tax forms I was waiting for. Now there’s just one left.

Also last week I read Dean Koontz’s The Darkest Evening of the Year.  I liked it fairly well. (it’s about dogs) (Golden Retrievers to be exact) (which are so unlike hounds that it’s hard to believe they’re both in the same species) Then I went to Amazon and was amazed at the criticisms people leveled at it. Some I thought were so off base I wondered if they were multi-tasking while trying to read the book. Texting while baking biscuits perhaps… Maybe I’ll do a post on it.

I finished the Don Nardo book, Life in Ancient Rome and still have a few things to say about that — if I can ever complete the post I’ve been stuck on.

And finally –  I may have had a breakthrough on all my struggles with working on the book and routines in the house and interruptions and hindrances and “allowing myself” to be distracted and leaving the details and trusting God for it all… But I want to wait a few days and see what happens.


Categories

My Online Church

Visit my Old Blog Here:

Music I’m Writing To

Transformers (Revenge of the Fallen) Soundtrack - Steve Jablonsky


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: