Something Odd this way comes … again

“In my short life, I have seen any detestable things, and I have been called upon to do repugnant things that have for a while broken me. But nothing in my experience had weighed upon me with greater power than the grievous scene in that subcellar of the mausoleum.” — from Odd Apocalypse, by Dean Koontz

THE LIVES AND CAREERS  of authors Dean Koontz and Stephen King are contemporaneous (Koontz, born in 1945, is 2 years older), and I have frequently found myself making comparisons between the two. Both had childhoods that contributed to their dark leanings (Koontz lived with an abusive, drunken father; King witnessed the death of a childhood friend under a train); and both have filled bookstores and libraries with their dark and macabre visions. I must confess, however, a preference for Koontz only because his narratives are more even, his attention span seemingly a bit longer, and his writing reflects a touch more erudition.

In 2003, Koontz introduced us to a twenty-year old short-order cook from Pico Mundo, California named Odd Thomas (Random House, 2003,2012), a man who sees dead people (“…but then, by God, I do something about it!”). Odd is a boy whose sad upbringing (possibly reflecting Koontz’ own) makes him susceptible to the spirits of those who have not yet “crossed over,” and Odd’s peregrinations are at once dark and funny. The ghosts of Elvis and of a white German Shepherd named Boo accompany Odd in the debut novel, later to be replaced, briefly, by Frank Sinatra and a variety of other spirits visible only to Odd and seemingly escaped from a Chris Consani poster or painting. The eponymous novel became a best seller, and several sequels followed, the last  (Odd Hours) appearing in 2008.  The “Odd” franchise also includes two graphic novels and a webisodic story in 4 parts, Odd Passenger.

The latest Odd sighting, Odd Apocalypse (Random House Publishing Group, 2102), is enchanting, as were the other novels. But it has been four years since the last installment and I was forced to go back and refresh my recollection of the events and characters in order to get into the mood. If you haven’t read the first novel, you will have a hard time making sense of this one. The story of Odd is like a dream and when you wake from a dream you may briefly recall the details–only to have them disappear into the web of synapses that hide them away from wakeful consciousness. That was how it felt opening Odd Apocalypse after several years: it took a while to bring it all back.

But, once I was able to refresh myself about the adventures of this peculiar protagonist, I found myself again amazed that I cared so much in the first place. The whole story is dreamlike (“Sometimes it seems that I am dreaming whenI am in fact awake, my reality as unreal as the lands I walk in sleep.”). Of course, in dreams things happen that are not only impossible but improbable. Yet you think nothing of it as you experience it (in dreams, I can sometimes fly!). Odd’s training in life is as a short-order cook (well, he does speak to the dead, but that’s not education, that avocation), yet his erudition is amazing: he can recognize quotes from Yeats, he is familiar with Hugo’s Les Miserables, and he can quote Shakespeare. But the incongruities gets better. And scarier.

In Apocalypse, Odd is led to an out of the way mansion known as Roseland by a girl named Annamaria whom he first encountered in his fourth Odd Thomas novel, Odd Hours. The owner of the property, a wealthy and disturbed (as well as disturbing) man named Noah Wolflaw, is mesmerized by Annamaria–as is Odd, but for different and less dark reasons. She is more woman than girl, more sprite than human: a person who has a way of making people say and do things that they would not ordinarily do. Annamaria has led Odd to this place because she senses that there is someone in danger, someone whom they need to help. The specter of a blonde woman in white on a black stallion confirms Annamaria’s premonition, and Odd quickly discovers how strange, and dangerous, this place is. It doesn’t’ bode well that daylight hours pass too quickly and that shadows are cast in two different directions; or that invisible creatures with claws roam the meadows and groves threatening sudden death to any who cross their path.

But in the land of Odd, the story can go from horrifying to knee-slapping hilarious at a moment’s notice. Odd’s irreverence is charming, and his observations and conversations–both with the living and the dead–can be riotously funny. Take this exchange between Odd and  Henry, a security guard at the mansion, about the possibility of UFO abduction. Odd begins:

“I just can’t buy into flying saucers and all that….it doesn’t make sense to me that a super intelligent race would come all the way across the galaxy just to abduct people and put probes up their rectums.”

“Well, that’s not the only thing they do in their examinations.”

“But it always seems to be the first and most important thing….[W]hy would aliens be interested in whether I have colon cancer?”

“Maybe because they care,” Henry said.

Or consider the reason that Odd doesn’t own a cell phone: “I never needed to play video games or surf the Net, or exchange nude photos with a congressman.”

But there are times when Odd waxes philosophical in ways bordering on the psychological:

“I wonder sometimes why those theorize about the human mind can so easily believe in the existence of things they cannot see or measure, or in any meaningful way confirm as real–such as the id, the ego, the unconscious I–but nevertheless dismiss as superstitious those who believe the body has a soul.”

Humor and philosophy aside, this is a story about the depths of depravity to which humans can descend, and yet Koontz is able to endow it with a redemptive quality I have seldom encountered in anything by Stephen King.

“…because I am able to see the lingering dead, I know that something lies outside of time, a place to which they belong and to which I will one day go.”

The Odd series is an amazing pastiche of ideas, dreams, spirits, and horror seasoned with just enough humor to take the edge off. However long since his previous incarnation, Thomas is Odd as ever in Odd Apocalypse, and equally, unbelievably enjoyable. It is Alice through the Looking Glass with attitude. But before you try to read it, I suggest you pick up Odd Thomas, the book that started it all. That is where you first meet Odd, learn what makes him that way, and learn to love him. He’s a trip, that’s for sure! If nothing else, you will learn what became of Elvis after he left K-Mart.

But just wait until you see which famous dead celebrity makes several brief appearances in Odd Apocalypse: his ghostly presence in this story couldn’t be more appropriate.

If you are interested in learning more about Odd Thomas, check out http://www.oddthomas.tv.

Copyright 2012 Isaac Morris

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