Why I'll Always Read Koontz...
I have been a Koontz reader for years and years. While I have taken time this month to share with you a plethora of reasons from his actual writing why I revere his so much, today I’m taking time out from all the Lines to Love (see posts here, here, and here) to share with you one of the prime reasons he’s at the top of my list as an author to read and emulate.
Dean Koontz has an almost singular ability to captivate you with his characters within moments of meeting them. He invites you into them. Whether they are heroes or villains, ordinary people or extraordinary, he brings you inside them. You know how they tick. You know why they make the decisions they make or say the things they say. After only a few lines, you’re invested in them.
In The Crooked Staircase, the third Jane Hawk novel, Koontz introduces us to a new character who- if my hunch is correct- will play a pivotal part in the upcoming novels in the Jane Hawk series. (As I’m currently reading my way through the fourth installment- The Forbidden Room- I can tell you that my hunch is proving correct.) His name is Cornell Jasperson. His primary interaction is with Travis Hawk. These two characters highlight one of the strengths of Koontz’s narratives.
Cornell is a genius multi-billionaire with a knack for creating apps people want. He is also autistic. And a dooms day preppier of extreme proportions- although reading this Jane Hawk series has had me perfecting what’s in my bug out bag. Just saying.
Travis Hawk is the five year old son of Jane Hawk. He’ll tell you he’s almost six, with the earnest firmness indigenous to that age.
Both these characters possess wisdom beyond their years- as only a child can convey true profundity- but they also have a stark innocence that grips the heart so strongly, I wanted to wheedle my way into the words so I could protect them. Juxtaposing such innocence with unmitigated hatred and evil only highlights more acutely the righteousness of Jane’s cause. And the brilliance is that Jane isn’t even in these parts. She’s not a part of them at all. They are just slices of the world- particularly people in the world often overlooked or shunned because they don’t kowtow to the norm that the current cultural trends dictate. To write such characters is a bold reminder to embrace compassion, nurture understanding and empathy, and repudiate quick judgement.
I applaud an author who showcases this. And Koontz does this over and over and over again.
In One Door Away From Heaven, there’s Leilani Klonk, a prodigy nine year old whose perspicacity rivals experienced, educated adults, but who also possesses that nature singular to a child- unguarded exuberance. She’s the next door neighbor of the novel’s protagonist, Michelina Bellsong. Mickey, as her Aunt Geneva calls her, is recovering from the wounds of her past. She’s feeling broken and battered and a little bitter. And the last thing she wants to do is have a conversation while she’s sunbathing with a kid who throws words like jejune around with the aplomb of an Oxford philologist (see post here). While Leilani might rub people the wrong way, the reason I love her so much is because she’s an exaggeration of the many children I’ve met in my own life. Certainly not every child has the well developed vocabulary of Miss Klonk, but I can tell you a time or two while teaching when a five year old surprised me with the clarity of his observations and the use of a word or two that no child of that age should know. (I’m not just talking about expletives, either. I’m talking cool words, like, well, jejune.) Kids say the darndest things, and Leilani is an example of that. She’s fully child even with her rambling vocabulary.
Then there’s Aunt Geneva, who ran a convenience store with her husband until it was robbed, he was killed, and she shot in the head; she’s recovered fully, but has this quirk where she confuses movie plot lines with memories. It makes for interesting, if sometimes irritating, dinner conversation for Mickey, and absolute hilarity for me.
There’s Dylan O’Connor’s autistic adult brother, Shep, in By the Light of the Moon. He’s autistic, but while he might refuse to eat his chicken nuggets if they are not cut into the right shape, he possesses a unique ability- ‘folding foresight’- which saves his brother’s bacon more than once throughout the course of the novel. In fact, while many would overlook Shep with his cryptic way of speaking in riddles that are seemingly indecipherable, he’s the saving grace of this novel, holding locked inside himself the answers that are needed for his and his family’s survival. The only problem is that he’s not always understood. Important things get lost in translation. But, once his brother or other characters take the time to understand him- the momentum of the novel shifts in their favor. (There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. You know, learning to understand people… I think it was Orwell who said that people don’t yearn so much to be loved as they do to be understood.) There’s also a cactus named Fred in this one. He’s a fun character, for a succulent.
There’s Doogie in the Christopher Snow series. This ultra-minor character only appears briefly in both books, but his unique quirks are instantly endearing. With the physique of a Hell’s Angel- complete with beard- Doogie does not look like the sort of man who would be an championship ballroom dancer with women of culture, refinement, and taste chasing after him the way Elmor Fudd does Bugsy. (And, oddly enough, while these characteristics might make him seem entirely made up, think of all the times in your life when someone surprised you with a motley assortment of likes, interests, and abilities.)
Heck, and on the subject of the Christopher Snow series, there’s Chris Snow himself. He suffers from a rare genetic condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum; he can’t go out in the daylight and he even needs to be careful with artificial light as it will cause irreparable and extensive DNA damage. People with this condition don’t live very long, but Chris is beating the odds. He lives his life in shadows, but so many interesting and frightening things happen in the shadows that those who live in the sunlight will never know about.
I could continue this list, chronicling characters from every book: Fric in The Face, Skeet in False Memory, Deliverance Payne in Tick Tock (Who am I kidding? Almost every character in Tick Tock; it’s a screwball comedy after all.). Truly, the list goes on and on and on.
All of these characters are important because they are exceptional individuals who transform their world simply by being in it. While exceptional, they are also hampered by conditions and limitations. Yet, even when they can’t overcome their devils, they are strong with good hearts. They are slices of life. They are you and me, flawed, but all the more to be loved and cherished for our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
That’s why I love Dean Koontz, specifically his characters. They are reminders that people are all different with quirks. People are weird. They are anomalies. They do things that surprise you. They have interests that don’t jive with what they look like. They have depths that you can’t know until you spend time with them. And by the end of it all, you will care about them and their success and happiness. And, there’s a real life lesson in that, isn’t there?
Have you ever come across characters like this? Who you related to so viscerally, they felt real- or maybe you just really, really wanted them to be real? Who reminded you of yourself or someone you know?