Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book review: BREATHLESS by Dean Koontz

Simply put,

Breathless, a novel by Dean Koontz,

is a story of second chances.

But there is nothing “simple” about this cross-bred science fiction/fantasy novel of suspense.

Koontz is a master of creating a sense of place and, even with this story, set in multiple locales with multiple protagonists and antagonists, Koontz's gift is spot on. The plot thread seems tenuous at times as the reader is tossed into a new place--into the thoughts of a new character--. But as the subplots twist and turn in on one another, a pattern forms from Koontz's seemingly chaotic prose. Within this crazy-quilt of a story, themes are introduced and explored without the reader realizing how each subtle thread has grabbed hold of--or caressed-- her imagination. After reading the final page, however, the beauty of the pattern emerges; and its imprint is destined to last long after the book has been shelved.

Koontz’s obvious love of animals plays a huge role in this novel. Contrasting the purity of an animal’s motivations to the complexity of a human’s, Koontz uses creatures, both known and unknown, to personify the gifts of wonder, innocence, faith, and acceptance while he deftly portrays human reticence—and resilience—to mirror the truth and consequences of such gifts.

With a myriad cast of characters (including a veterinarian who was abused as a child, a special forces sniper-turned carpentry artist, a pure-hearted Irish Wolfhound, a corrupt and sadistic political aide, a do-gooder physicist, a poet and his wife, a homeless alcoholic with tendencies toward violence, and a pair of heretofore undiscovered creatures), Koontz explores the miracle of creation and the concept of eternity from each vantage point. Without stooping to proselytize tired theological arguments, Koontz places before the reader a Puzzle and a Riddle--questions with answers; pictures in pieces; parts of a greater whole--and leads the reader to grasp unspoken conclusions through the power of Story.

I instantly fell in love with several of this book’s characters, particularly those of a furrier species. But I must admit that there was one particular character that made me uncomfortable; a character whose storyline caused me to question if Koontz’s writing had been diverted, or corrupted, rather, from its artful course by the current trend in fiction toward sexually-driven villainy.

To be honest, the scenes visualized through Henry’s point of view made me squirm. I didn’t want to see into his sadistic, deviant mind; I didn’t want to hear thoughts about who he’d like to store in his potato cellar and why. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why Henry was included in the book at all. Near the end of the novel, when he finally does come into contact with another, kinder character, the scene is so brief that I ended the chapter thinking: “Really? That was the point of suffering through Henry’s madness with him? That’s it????” At that moment, Henry's inclusion seemed little more than a writer's device--or a sensationalist marketing tool. But, as is so often the case when you decide to trust an author, I was rewarded for making the choice to continue to suspend my disbelief for just a little while longer.

When I closed the book and took a moment to mix and digest all the various subplots and character arcs and resolutions, I realized that Henry was necessary. And that, as an artist who shows multiple dimensions of Theme, Dean Koontz had no choice but to include this character in his novel of second chances. Like viewing the negative of a photograph, we see, through sick, nasty Henry, that second chances are a GIFT—and when misinterpreted, or gained through ill means, it is not an authentic gift but, rather, a curse. I won’t include a spoiler other than to say: It doesn’t end well for Henry. And that made me happy.

As always, Dean Koontz kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the reading of this novel, but it wasn’t the intensity of the prose which moved me so much as the seed-pearls of wisdom and beauty so innocently--and seemingly randomly--placed. As my brain spun in an attempt to digest chaos theory, multiple storylines, and an overarching theme, I was both challenged and thoroughly entertained. As is almost always true with this amazing author’s work, Breathless made me think about deep and unsearchable things; things which are brought more clearly into focus only when fiction mirrors truth.

Yes, Breathless is a story about second chances. But it's also a tale of mystery and beauty; a complex weaving of concepts such as creation and eternity with those of wonder and innocent faith. It's a sparkling golden passage through a dark wood where, if the reader allows herself, she can be awed by the discovery of patterns of the Divine within apparent chaos.

No, there is nothing "simple" about this novel--but there is much that is True.

...and plenty to leave you BREATHLESS with wonder and wondering--long after you turn the final page.


Tracy Krauss said...

I just wish I had more time for reading! this book sounds like something I would like. I'll have to keep it in mind for that wonderful moment when I actually have more time!(This summer perhaps?)

Nike Chillemi said...

Nice blog.

My bookshelf, although basically crime fiction, tends to be diverse. How can that be. Well an astounding number of different types of people write crime fiction. And I've also read my share of classics.