Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Live. Die. Rinse. Repeat.

Strange Highways by Dean Koontz (1995): Short novel sees the prolific Koontz on a rare foray into supernatural horror. It's pretty bad. Things start off promisingly, as a 40-year-old never-was returns to his small Pennsylvania hometown for the first time in 20 years to bury his father. Something happened two decades ago to drive him away from home, something he doesn't want to think about. But think about he will, as visions and supernatural events begin to point him towards a long-delayed reckoning with Evil. Evil so Evil it is the Fruits of the Devil, it is.

The first forty pages or so of Strange Highways are quite promising, establishing a real sense of place in Pennsylvania mining country, in an area where underground coal-vein fires have forced the evacuation of a village near the protagonist's hometown as the ground begins to crack, explode, and subside.

However, the supernatural events, when they really start coming, quickly veer into complete goofiness. Why? Something wants our protagonist to change the past. So it sends him into the past. And it provides a magical way for him to know whether or not he's changing the past for the better. And then, at the climax, after numerous speeches in which the protagonist is guilted by another character for not Having Faith, time keeps resetting itself until he gets everything right. It's like Live Die Repeat, Now With 100% More Satan.

We're left with a hero who seems like a dunderhead. Given the supernatural events going on all around him, he doesn't really need to have faith: empirically speaking, God does seem to have been proven to exist. And two plot devices ripped from the headlines of the early 1990's -- Satanist teenagers! Repressed Memory Syndrome! -- look awfully threadbare with the benefit of hindsight. So, too, the repeated and increasingly mawkish sermonizing. Koontz is a lot of things, but an interesting philosopher he is not. Not recommended.

2 comments:

  1. I read a few of Koontz's bestsellers in the late '80s, when I was graduating high school, and for a hot minute I liked him fine. Then came the epilogue to MIDNIGHT, in which the hero/father smashes all his estranged son's heavy metal records, then forces him in an embrace (in subsequent reprints, records are replaced with CDs, because who wants to read some damn *old* book from a hundred years ago when people listened to records?!). See, all better now! Barf.

    Not too long after that I read an essay he wrote for the intro to a NIGHT VISIONS antho he edited, in which he slammed shallow, graphic horror writers--or, writer singular, as it was obvious he was referring to Clive Barker. Barker, who by any estimate is a far better writer *and* philosopher than Koontz any day. I've reserved a special hatred of Koontz ever since, and these days it's pretty obvious he's become a right-wing crank clumsily inserting his ham-headed beliefs into his fiction. I really don't think he has much to do with the horror genre whatsoever, despite what publishers and bookstores think. He's a hack by every definition of the word.

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  2. As Charles Barkley might say, he's turrrrrrribull.

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