I have a confession to make. It relates to a longstanding sin of omission. Here I am in my sixtieth year and I can claim to have the dubious distinction of never having read any of the novels of Dean Koontz. “Big deal,” I would have said for most of those sixty years, “who cares?” Why should I waste my time reading contemporary pulp fiction when the great books of western civilization are beckoning? Why add Dean Koontz or Stephen King to my library when I can take Dante and Shakespeare from the shelf?
Such reasoning is fair enough, up to a point. We only have so many years allotted to us and we know that we will die with a long list of unread books, which would have nourished us had we read them. We need to be selective.
But there’s another reason, which is not quite as objective or laudable. The truth is that I have always been what might be called, whimsically and tongue-in-cheek, a “pre-Vatican II” reader. I don’t trust anything or almost anything written since 1960, Solzhenitsyn being a noble exception.
It is true that over the past twenty years or so I have tried to keep my finger on the pulse of contemporary Catholic culture. As the editor of the St. Austin Review, a Catholic cultural journal which claims on its cover to be “reclaiming culture”, it is needful that I have some idea of what’s going on currently. I’ve read contemporary Catholic fiction, which is mostly published by Catholic publishers, in the knowledge that this is the counterculture of the catacombs. These authors would never be published by today’s secular publishers, all of which have succumbed to agenda-driven intolerance, nor would these authors ever make the New York Times Bestseller List. It is those titles which have made the List which I have consciously spurned as not being worthy of my time.
I had heard people whom I trust tell me that Stephen King was a great storyteller, or that Dean Koontz was not only a great storyteller but that his works were suffused with a Catholic moral sensibility. All to no avail.
And then, a few years ago, I was in correspondence with another New York Times bestselling author, Tim Powers, and was intrigued that such a devout Catholic could be so successful in the crass world of contemporary secular culture. What was his secret? Desiring to find out, I asked him which of his novels would he recommend as a good place to get to know his work. He suggested Declare, a spy thriller with supernatural undertones, which encapsulated the genre of what might be called supernatural realism. It was so good, spanning Europe and its recent history, from the Spanish Civil War and occupied Paris during World War II, to London, Berlin, Moscow and the Middle East, all impeccably well-researched and all interwoven with supernatural and spiritual significance. Almost immediately I read a second of his novels, Last Call, which plumbs the ultimately demonic depths of Las Vegas and its denizens.
Tim Powers suggested that I also read the novels of Dean Koontz, recommending Koontz’s novel Odd Thomas, which now sits on my shelf, gathering dust and staring at me reproachfully whenever I notice it. This sense of guilt was brought to the surface as I read an excellent interview with Mr. Koontz in the Epoch Times. My attention was grabbed by this depiction of the power of stories, plucked from Mr. Koontz’s latest novel: “Bella could not live without stories. Stories were the blessing of intelligence. They were food for the soul. They were medicine. You could live a thousand lives through stories – and learn to shape your own life into a story of the best kind.” This was enough to get me to read on.
The interviewer, Fred J. Eckert, describes the new novel, Devoted, as harnessing Koontz’s “gift for mesmerizing storytelling honoring essential virtues and values”. Without ever succumbing to the preachiness which is the death of all good storytelling, Mr. Koontz explains that his works explore “the divinely inspired moral imperative to love” that he says “we carry within us”. Mr. Eckert affirms that the works of Dean Koontz “celebrate the triumph of good over evil, the dignity of the individual, the hope of
becoming better, and the wonders of the world around us and within our minds”. If it is true that Mr. Koontz conveys all of this in his novels with a “gift for mesmerizing storytelling”, it is evident that my neglect of his work has indeed been a sin of omission.
“I want to extravagantly entertain readers,” says Mr. Koontz, “while making them feel the wonder of life and consider its profound mysteries. I want readers to feel that meaning – therefore hope – is woven into the fabric of the physical universe….” Having read this overarching philosophy, which breathes life into his work, we are not surprised to learn that Mr. Koontz is a believing Catholic, though I have no idea where he stands on what might be called the ecclesial spectrum. “Some writers without faith tend to produce works that are angry and despairing,” he states. “I’d rather never have been a writer than to spend my life in the grip of such negative emotions.” This is as good a guarantee as one could wish that his books are devoid of the nihilistic iconoclasm that possesses most modern fiction.
And what of his gifts as a writer? Is he proud or presumptuous after having published more than a hundred novels, which have been translated into 38 languages and which have sold collectively in excess of 500 million copies? “Talent is a grace,” he says. “Having done nothing to earn it, I feel a moral obligation to refine it and employ it to the greatest extent I can.” Though it’s not for me to judge, I’d be tempted to say that a writer who devotes this sort of humble service to the gifts-given, might be considered a good and worthy servant.
Another intriguing fact about Mr. Koontz’s deeper philosophy, which heartened me greatly, is his agreement with Vladimir Nabokov that the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Mark were the two most evil influences on our own times. “Freud strove to relieve the individual of responsibility for his actions,” he explains, “and Marx strove to make each of us a servant of the state.” The evil that these ideas have wrought on contemporary society are plain for all to see. “The consequence of each ideology – and especially the two in concert – is mental disorder, moral insanity, society-wide despair, and mass murder.”
When asked which of his numerous books he liked best, Mr. Koontz named Odd Thomas, the one that Tim Powers had recommended to me, as one of his favourites. Having read this edifying interview, I have less excuse than ever to remain obstinate in my sin of omission. I will be taking Odd Thomas from the shelf soon, cracking open its pages and entering the extravagantly hopeful world of Dean Koontz.