Bite-Sized: Excerpts From Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

For some reason I randomly started reading Dean Koontz’s Brother Odd. It was given to me by a friend some time ago, but it was on my bookshelf untouched until now.

Holy crap, the way the prose enters straight into your brain is something to behold. This type of information condensation intermixed with the forward push of action, as well as crazily Gothic descriptions is the pinnacle of action writing. It has just the right mixture of snarky, poetic, and straightforward.

Excerpt A

I hurled myself through the snowfall, so it seemed as though a wind had sprung up, pasting flakes to my lashes.

In this second minute of the storm, the ground remained black, unchanged by the blizzard’s brush. Within a few bounding steps, the land began to slope gently toward woods that I could not see, open dark descending toward a bristling dark.

Intuition insisted that the forest would be the death of me. Running into it, I would be running to my grave.

The wilds are not my natural habitat. I am a town boy, at home with pavement under my feet, a whiz with a library card, a master at the gas grill and griddle.

If my pursuer was a beast of the new barbarism, he might not be able to make a fire with two sticks and a stone, might not be able to discern true north from the growth of moss on trees, but his lawless nature would make him more at home in the woods than I would ever be.

I needed a weapon, but I had nothing except my universal key, a Kleenex, and insufficient martial-arts knowledge to make a deadly weapon of them.

Cut grass relented to tall grass, and ten yards later, nature put weapons under my feet: loose stones that tested my agility and balance. I skidded to a halt, stooped, scooped up two stones the size of plums, turned, and threw one, threw it hard, and then the other.

The stones vanished into snow and gloom. I had either lost my pursuer or, intuiting my intent, he had circled around me when I stopped and stooped. I clawed more missiles off the ground, turned 360 degrees, and surveyed the night, ready to pelt him with a couple of half-pound stones.

Nothing moved but the snow, seeming to come down in skeins as straight as the strands of a beaded curtain, yet each flake turning as it fell.

I could see no more than fifteen feet. I had never realized that snow could fall heavily enough to limit visibility this much.

Once, twice, I thought I glimpsed someone moving at the limits of vision, but it must have been an illusion of movement because I couldn’t fix on any shape.

The patterns of snow on night gradually dizzied me.

Holding my breath, I listened. The snow did not even whisper its way to the earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.

Some parts of the book are also so ridiculous but fun that they remind me of Romeo digressions, like how Odd Thomas will randomly commentate about the ridiculous history of the physicist living in the basement, being attacked by the mass media, with amazing wit and speed. Sadly, I’m 100 pages in and I can already tell that he won’t be able to link it up to that greater macrocosmic view that Romeo is always able to pull off. The poesy, jokes, and descriptions, are more for entertainment than for meaning – although some parts manage to breach something a bit higher.

This makes me think – what will happen to Romeo 50 years later when we lose half of the references that he sticks all around his works? Koontz is already suffering from a bit of datedness in his writing because he has a lot of references that merely hang there without any greater import. I would say that Romeo’s ideas will still come through, although his jokes would probably seem a lot less ‘perfect’ to those of us who have a better access to what he’s talking about. This is another reason why I view the structure and characterization as important – while other things will fall away, those will remain as foundation.

Excerpt B

Wondering if the brain-damaged girl had made room for a visitor, I wished the bottomless blue eyes would polarize into a particular pair of Egyptian-black eyes with which I was familiar.

Some days I feel as if I have always been twenty-one, but the truth is that I was once young.

In those days, when death was a thing that happened to other people, my girl, Bronwen Llewellyn, who preferred to be called Stormy, would sometimes say, “Loop me in, odd one”. She meant that she wanted me to share the events of my day with her, or my thoughts, or my fears and worries.

During the sixteen months since Stormy had gone to ashes in this world and to service in another, no one had spoken those words to me.

Justine moved her mouth without producing sound, and in the adjacent bed, Annamarie said in her sleep, “Loop me in.”

Room 32 seemed airless. Following those three words, I stood in a silence as profound as that in a vacuum. I could not breathe.

Only a moment ago, I had wished these blue eyes would polarize into the black of Stormy’s eyes, that the suspicion of a visitation would be confirmed. Now the prospect terrified me.

When we hope, we usually hope for the wrong thing.

We yearn for tomorrow and the progress that it represents. But yesterday was once tomorrow, and where was the progress in it?

Or we yearn for yesterday, for what was or what might have been. But as we are yearning, the present is becoming the past, so the past is nothing but our yearning for second chances.

“Loop me in,” Annamarie repeated.

As long as I remain subject to the river of time, which will be as long as I may live, there is no way back to Stormy, to anything.

Shit. Too bad this scene is off-hand and used more for an explication on general love angst than for something else – but it points to what Dean Koontz could have done if he had a better sense of structure rather than merely wishing to leave things in pulp. The “loop me in odd one” part is a bit precious, but the part about time reminds me of the opening of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The fact that it’s structured after speedy cascades of Gothic touches gives it the potential to be an ‘out’ – had the situation packed the punch.

Once again, I outline the difference between poetry and prose. If a writer can structure the push of the situation around a certain idea, he can create a great impact without much flowery poetry, while in a poem it has to be sustained. That’s why Hesse’s Siddartha doesn’t have to be as hallucinogenic as something like Nabokov or Joyce in its descriptions, but by placing the poetics at the correct intervals, he can create a sense of a full life reaching something deeper.

That is why, if Koontz had chose to structure that statement around something better than general love angst, it would have been his gateway into greatness. This, sadly, is denied to a writer who has such great technical prowess in his prose and a potential methodology (using a ridiculous gothic scenario from the start allows for a greater sense of the illusion, which allows him to be more tempestuous in his comic side – although a bunch of reviewers around will disagree). He remains on the threshold. He cannot as yet press in.

Then again, maybe some amazing thing will happen in the next couple hundred pages.