Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz

If I am going to be honest here, and that is one of my goals with my blog, is that I am honest about books I like and dislike, then I have to take a deep breath, and very quickly say: I hated this book. Ok, hate is too strong. It is badly written in places. And I so intensely disagreed with what Odd did - moving the body of Robertson to the desert? C'mon! Not going to happen. I wanted to like this book. I really was looking forward to it, since so many other bloggers count it among their favourites. But it's poorly written. Now, I'm not sure if, because the main character who is 'writing' this story - his is the only view point given, and he is writing down the events to please his old writing mentor, and so he doesn't forget the events that happened - he has 'writing potential', he was told by this same writing mentor, and so the overblown descriptions could be the author showing how desperately the main character wanted to write. Here's an example: "Pale, puffy, his watery gray gaze floating over store windows, looking almost as bemused as an Alzheimer's patient who has wandered out of his care facility into a world he no longer recognizes, Fungus Man carried stuffed shopping bags from two department stores." That's an opening paragraph, one long run-on sentence that my English teachers at university would have ripped to shreds with red ink everywhere if I had dared to submit that as a descriptive paragraph. What is a watery gray gaze? Are his eyes watering? How does the main character know from across the mall that the man's eyes are gray? and don't get me started on the Alzheimer's bit - I'm sorry, 'bemused' is a terrible expression for someone who is slowly losing every sense of himself and the world around him. They aren't bemused, they're angry, and afraid.

The thing is, I can almost get the image Koontz is trying to convey. The terrible descriptions - and the book is filled with strange things put together, kept pulling me out of the story. I dislike intensely any writing that throws me out of the story I am reading, that reminds me I am reading a story. That's bad writing, and Koontz is too experienced a writer to be doing this.

The thing is, the story itself is good - Odd is psychic, and the things he sees during the events of this novel are creepy - I had problems going to sleep last night, thinking of the Bodach, the black slinking shadow creatures that presage violence, that Odd keeps seeing around his town. All the secondary characters are fantastic, and the ghost of Elvis haunts this book, a very sweet touch. It's not all bad, this book. But the descriptions don't work: "Nonetheless, time was running out for me. My watch was digital, but I could hear my opportunity for action tick-tick-ticking away." I know some of you would think that was cute, but I don't. It's self-conscious and verbose, when if Odd and Koontz were trying for a cool noir tone, this novel could have worked, amazingly. Instead, Odd is annoying. There, I said it. He won't touch his girlfriend, 'saving himself' because they are perfect together. Ok, in my world, once upon a time 30 and even 20 years ago that was still acceptable (not done, but thought about as possible, once!) but today? He'd be beyond freaky, and while he keeps saying he is 'different' and uses the word freak for himself, I just got annoyed at his innocence, which was a cover for fear of everything that could go wrong in love and in a relationship. The thing between his mother and himself - when he finally reveals it (and I know at least one of you, my dear Bloggers, hasn't read this yet! so I'm not revealing much here!) I got mad and that no one, but no one would go through a life of what his mother did to him and not fight back once. so I lost all respect for him too, even though as a character, he is interesting. See, it's a difficult book to write off completely, which is why I keep reading the occasional Koontz in the hope it will be a better read than the previous book. He has such great horror ideas, and terrible execution - but then again, we do live in a world where Dan Brown is a bestseller, and his dialogue makes me shudder. I've only managed one of his books, and I could read it only because the story was good enough to drag me yelling to the end....oh no, now I sound like Dean Koontz here! I'm going to go away now, and hope Tamsin by Peter Beagle is better written.

It's been a very bad week at work so maybe I've been a bit hard here, but I don't think so. Will I read any more in the series? Maybe, if only to know what happens to the secondary characters - Little Ozzie and Chester the cat, the chief and Karla, Terri the Elvis lover - they are people I'd love to have in my life. I just wish Odd wasn't so prissy, and was more human, but then seeing dead people does do strange things to one. I do believe psychic ability exists, and to accept the gift and how it makes you different does make the psychic person different. I guess Odd has no sense of humour, and that's what has gotten me through my life, so I'm not sure he and I could ever be friends.

It is an interesting story filled with ghosts, and good people, but it's not a well-written book, so I can't really recommend it as anything more than an airport book.

I'm so glad I read Lonely Werewolf Girl before Odd Thomas. LWG sustains me now. When I encounter a badly-written book, at least I know there are great ones out there, that are what perfect reading and perfect books are all about. It's been a few weeks now since I read it, and I keep coming back to it in my mind, replaying my favourite parts, thinking about the characters. LWG is quickly moving from my list of favourite books this year, to the list of the best books I've ever read. I think some friends and family members might find this one under the Christmas tree this year...I also love The Woman in Black, and find after letting it sit for 6 weeks in my mind, that it is still so creepy that I won't let myself think about the book for too long in case I start getting scared again. Now that is a ghost story.

Odd Thomas finishes that section of the 888 challenge for me; I've completed two sections now, and have two more sections I hope to complete in November. So I'm not going to complete the whole challenge, but I have read 44/64 books so far in the challenge, which is a very good achievement for me. I've also now read 11/4 books in the RIP3 challenge! With Tamsin now, and Northanger Abbey or Thirteenth Letter, I haven't quite decided what to end the challenge on, I will have read 13 books for the challenge, which is a very appropriate number to end the challenge on Hallowe'en with!! (Carl, do I get any bonus points for this?)

PS note to Koontz fans: Please don't write and tell me I will go to Book Hell for dismissing your all-time favourite horror writer. I already feel badly enough that I didn't see what was so great in the book, when everyone, and I mean everyone, has only had good things to say about it. I'm back in that group of one again!


Anonymous said...

I trust your judgement, Susan. I've never read Koontz and now I won't bother. There are too many authors out there my friends speak well of for me to get entangled with one who isn't thought highly of.

Nymeth said...

"as bemused as an Alzheimer's patient"?!?!

wow. That's an unfortunate choice of words to say the least. And I could go on about it too.

Sorry that this was such a disappointment, Susan. And good thing that Lonely Werewolf Girl is suistaining you! I love how a really great book can do that.

Also, I think you totally should get extra points for reading 13 books for RIP :P

I finished Northanger Abbey today and I loved it! Some parts were just so funny. It gave me a whole appreciation for Austen's renowned irony.

Daphne said...

I keep picking this book up and putting it down... now I don't think I'll pick it up again! Thanks for a good, honest review. I felt that way (like you did about Lonely Werewolf Girl) about The Blue Girl, by Charles de Lint, which I just finished. It was like, Oh! *That's* what a really great YA book is supposed to be!

Emily Barton said...

I haven't read ODD THOMAS yet, but I have a copy on my shelves. After reading this review, I think I'll be approaching it with lower expectations, although you've kind of made me more curious than ever to read it. As far as your final RIP books go, I vote for THE THIRTEENTH TALE. Such a great book for those who like to read -- she just knows us readers so well. And it's a lovely nod to all the great Gothic writers.

Bybee said...

I've only read one thing by Koontz. It was a book on how to write genre fiction for profit. Assigned by a creative writing professor back in 80 or 81. Big chapter on style mistakes writers make, so I had to laugh at your wanting to take a red pen to his book!

jspeyton said...

Aww, I'm sorry you hated this book. I actually didn't find it that bad. My main problem with it was that it wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be. The writing didn't bother me a bit. In fact, I remembering being surprised that it was better than I thought it was going be (lol). I used to read Koontz a lot when I was in high school and I guess old habits are hard to break. =)

I understand hating it when writing pulls you out of your reading, though. I hate it when that happens to me. I hope you have better luck with the next one!

Care said...

This was a fun review to read. And I'm off to go read more about The Woman in Black! Thank you, Care

R.E.II said...

Dear Susan,
I am taken by your judgment. Excellent!

GeraniumCat said...

Koontz has never really appealed to me but I'd wondered, when I saw him on your list recently, whether I should give him a try - I won't though! But I do hope you love Tamsin as much as I did, I have just finished it and about to post my thoughts.