Friday, June 5, 2009

The Audacity of Hope (For Dean Koontz)

I just found this on Unmainstream Mom Reads.

It's the link to an excerpt from Dean Koontz's upcoming novel Relentless. Like me, Mo has been sorely disappointed with Mr. Koontz of late, thanks to his "overly descriptive metaphors & phrasing and five dollar words . . . both of which Koontz had not been heavy-handed with in the past." My own issues with him extend to his penchant for preaching, overflowing schmaltz, and the many, many Koontz clichés (amazing dog!tragic past!adorable wise-beyond-their years children!guns!Down Syndrome cherub!sociopath with stupid name!saintly good guys!southern California!).

However, there may yet be hope! At least . . . I hope!

Alas, after reading the excerpt, I find myself unable to share Mo's anticipation for a Triumphant Return of the Man Who Wrote Phantoms.

I do agree that Koontz's prose seems considerably toned down. The style is relaxed, conversational, and peppered with low-key wit. Descriptive bombast is minimal. The protagonists seem like easygoing people who aren't prone to Koontz's usual ruminations on morality and the sad state of the contemporary American society.

And yet, poor Dean seems unable to separate himself from his own beloved clichés. The son is cute and precocious and may possess preternatural powers. The family dog also seems to possess abilities beyond that of the ordinary canine. The villain, Shearman Waxx, joins the proudly Eeeeebil ranks of Corky Laputa (The Face), Edgler Vess (Intensity), Candy (The Bad Place), and Junior (From the Corner of His Eye). Most troubling is the main character: a mild-mannered novelist, with apparently no personality flaws, who is targeted by an Eeeeebil postmodernist literary critic (that would be Mr. Waxx) and who also acts as a mouthpiece for Dean's disdain for all those soulless postmodern people who dare, DARE belittle him for being, as one Amazon review ingeniously put it, "the Thomas Kinkade of horror."

Um, Gary Stu, anyone?

(Interestingly, Kinkade himself shares the same scorn for his critics.)

Actually, several Koontz baddies, most notably Mr. Laputa, share in the following literary mindset outlined in The Darkest Evening of the Year:
He had no patience for those few books on the market that sought to find order or hope in life. He liked books steeped in irony. Wry comic novels about the folly of humanity and the meaninglessness of existence were his meat. Fortunately novelists turned them out by the thousands. He didn't care for writers full of brooding nihilism, but rather for those who sweetened their nihilism with giggles, the kind of guys who would be happy operating a weenie stand in Hell.

Now I consider myself pretty well-read, but just who are these writers allegedly hell-bent on gleefully destroying everyone's faith in life and humanity? The only ones I can think of who fit that description are William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller, and maybe Joseph Heller (Catch-22). All of them dead for decades. I mean, to be fair, I have heard postmodernism in art and literature described as "giggling into the void," but I've never come across a well-known book (other than The Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch, written in the '30s and '50s, respectively) that didn't have some redeeming quality to it, if only in the beauty of its prose. So I guess Dean thinks anyone who dislikes his florid, Hallmark-style sentimentality is a potential psychopath?


Look Dean, people are happy to read uplifting books with a moral point. Just quit beating us over the head with it. And also: a little variety never killed anyone. Leave the comfort zone, man. Lose the clichés.

Then maybe I'll get back to you.


Christine said...

Nice skewered.

E. L. Fay said...

Well, yeah, this post was pretty snarky. Not all of Dean's newer books suck - The Face, Seize the Night, and The Taking manage to succeed despite their uniquely Koontzian flaws. But still, he's come out with some doozies.

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