Books: The City

I didn’t even know Dean Koontz had written another novel until I found The City on the “new books” shelves at the library. Naturally I grabbed it, knowing it might be a while before it showed up on the shelves again. Besides, I wanted a good book to take along to the Wee Kirk conference my husband and I go to each October.

It’s a good book, and I enjoyed reading it – Koontz is a good storyteller. But I didn’t find it engrossing like other novels I have read by Koontz. I would read it for a while, then lay it aside and pick up another book. Then after a while I’d go back to it.

From reviews I have read, it seems that Koontz is trying to go in a new direction with Innocence and The City, different from the suspense thrillers for which he is so well-known. That’s fine with me – it was never the “suspense” or “thriller” aspect that I wanted from his books (in fact, I was initially hesitant to read his books because of those elements).

What draws me is the nature of the world he writes about, one that is full of mystery, of a reality deeper than what we generally are able to see and understand. This deeper reality encompasses both great good and great evil, and that rings true to me because that is the kind of world we live in. Evil never has the last word in his books, but there are never “happily ever after” endings either. There is hope, however, and grace.

In this interview with Dean Koontz, Koontz says that the stories he writes “talk about the operation of grace in our lives, which I see around me all the time.” In this particular story, he “wanted to tell a story that was about all the different types of love that exist, about the reality of evil, and about the magic that cities that comes from the operation of grace in our lives.”

He succeeds in telling about different types of love – family, friends of different ages and backgrounds. I don’t think he does quite as well regarding the reality of evil, as the villains in this novel are not well-developed as characters. Most of Koontz’s other novels do a much better job in that regard.

What I didn’t think came across particularly well at all was that bit about the magic of cities. Despite the title, despite the mysterious character whom Jonah calls Pearl, who claims to be the soul of the city, I didn’t find the unnamed city to have much character, or much appeal.

Granted, I’m not a fan of cities to begin with. I have always found them too crowded and too noisy. They’re fine to visit, but not someplace I want to live. I did enjoy the months I spent living in cities in Spain – six months in Valencia, and nine months in Madrid. But it was the opportunity to learn that I was enjoying, experiencing new things, experiences that I thought would contribute to my success in my planned career as a Spanish teacher.

I go to cities when I need to for business, or occasionally as a tourist. I dislike the traffic, even in smaller cities. I like trying new foods, exploring museums, and sometimes being able to shop at stores with a far greater variety than what I see back home.

But I like open spaces. Even when I lived in Spain, my favorite excursions were to small towns and villages, and seeing the countryside through the windows of the bus as we passed. I like hiking in the woods, where my own footsteps are the only human sounds around.

I know people who love living in cities. An artist/art teacher who loved New York City. A friend who misses Chicago, where there was always something going on, always new people to meet, new food to try. People who enjoy the night-life of cities (I’d much rather curl up with a book at home). People who love current styles of music and hearing it performed live (I prefer Baroque music, and while it’s better live, it’s a special treat that I don’t need often).

I thought maybe Koontz would make city life more appealing to me. In theory, at least – I hardly can imagine wanting to actually go live in one. But I tried to be open to seeing what made a city a wonderful place. I wanted to see what he thought was the “soul” of the city. But Pearl seems to be more a plot device than the soul of a city.

What is most appealing in the novel is the close ties among family and friends, and that hardly requires city living. Music also presumably plays a large role in the novel, but as someone who has no interest in the musicians or styles or songs mentioned, I found it a lot of words with little emotional impact.

I also had trouble being convinced that Jonah is as optimistic as he says he is. The attitude he talked about having toward life, always looking for what is best in it and appreciating what is good, despite the presence of both difficulties and downright evil, is a great one. But I’m not sure how well it came through, other than as a statement made from time to time.

(My husband had a similar comment about Odd Thomas, when he read all the Odd Thomas books recently. Odd talks about keeping an optimistic attitude, but my husband didn’t see it other than in his words about himself.)

But whatever my criticisms or disappointments, it is a good book. And whatever Dean Koontz writes next, I’ll read it as soon as it shows up on the library shelves.


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