Since I had a gift card for Books-A-Million, I decided to get Dean Koontz’ newest novel, Innocence, for my birthday. Mostly I wait for books I want to be available at the library, but some books I buy, such as his Odd Thomas series. When I read that Innocence was one of his favorite books that he’d written, I thought that was a good enough reason to buy it.
I disagree with this review, which claims that “readers will either love this story or despise it.” It’s a reasonably well-told story, and thought-provoking once you finally learn the secret of what makes people hate Addison Goodheart and those like him. But I don’t know how likely I am to reread it. Now that I know the nature of Addison’s “deformity” what little suspense was there is gone, and the writing is not so impressive that I want to read it just for the way Koontz writes (as I have others of his books).
What is most interesting about the book is Koontz’ idea of people, like Addison, to whom others react with fear, then violent hatred. Even his own mother found it difficult to have him present, and the one person in the city who is his father’s friend can only bear to see him once a year. I wondered what it could be in their faces, especially their eyes, that provoked such a reaction, but the answer turned out to be very different from what the reader expects.
Please note that the rest of this post will be about what Koontz reveals at the end of the novel, so stop here if you haven’t read it and want to without knowing the explanation ahead of time.
It turns out there is no physical deformity of any kind. Nothing physical at all, really – it is what other people see about themselves when they look into the eyes of Addison or someone like him. Addison is truly innocent, lacking the “original sin” with which nearly all of humankind is born. Somehow this purity of heart shows in his eyes, and causes the other person to become so aware of his own moral shortcomings that he cannot stand it and is driven to try to destroy the one who is causing his unbearable self-awareness.
It’s an interesting thought – I’m guessing it’s part of the dream that Koontz says inspired this novel. But I find the idea somewhat far-fetched. Yes, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and perhaps one might be able to see Addison’s purity of heart by looking in his eyes. And it can be a very unpleasant thing to realize one’s own moral poverty in comparison with someone who exudes such goodness. But I don’t see that kind of realization and reaction happening in such a knee-jerk fashion (instantaneously and instinctively).
Christians believe that people who encountered Jesus of Nazareth saw someone wholly pure in heart. Yes, some people hated Jesus, and certainly the crucifixion was in part the result of violent hatred. But there is no sign that people reacted to him that way simply on meeting him. Their reaction was to his teachings, and to his explicit or implicit condemnation of their behavior.
Many people followed him gladly, in spite of or even because he made them aware of their moral failures – because he also offered forgiveness. There is an incident where Peter begins to realize what sort of person Jesus is and tells Jesus to leave because he (Peter) is a sinful man (Luke 5:8). But this is clearly not because Peter could not stand to be in Jesus’ presence – when instead of leaving Jesus calls Peter and the others to follow him, they do so without hesitation.
Jesus offers people grace. But Koontz’ apocalyptic ending has no grace for people tainted by sin. Judgment comes, not by supernatural means (as in his novel The Taking) but as a result of a man-made virus. Only those born without sin enter the new violence-free future. I have read some reviews of this novel that refer to as sense of hopefulness in the book, but a hope that is only for those born sinless is not the sort of hope that speaks to me.