“The City is simultaneously an interesting and a boring book” – Rabindranauth
“[W]hat happened to the Dean Koontz” – Patrice Hoffman
“[T]he worst Dean Koontz book I have ever read” – Elspeth
These are some of the quotes from folks at Goodreads. I get it. I get what Dean Koontz was trying to do in THE CITY. And for the most part I can handle strange, queer, and imaginative. Not so much the rambling. That’s what makes this so different.
I bet the reviews would be better if Koontz wrote this under a pseudonym. Look at THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST. That book got great reviews; part of what added to it is the mysteriousness of having “an acclaimed author” behind the helm. I enjoyed that part; it added a spice to the book.
The rambling wouldn’t taste as sour if Koontz didn’t repeatedly point out he was rambling. He writes, “if the story is fourteen blocks long, I sometimes start on block four and have to backtrack to make sense.” Then he writes, “I tend to ramble when I talk, like now into this recorder.” And again in a later chapter, “I hop around, back and forth, so maybe you’ll see the uncanny way that things connected.” Ugh.
But let’s get back to what Koontz is doing here. He opens the book with a quote from Thomas Mann saying, “Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment.” Koontz later in the book writes, “In our lives, we come to moments of great significance that we fail to recognize, the meaning of which does not occur to us for many years.” There’s something deep here; he just bounces around getting to it.
There is plenty of mysterious things you’d expect from Koontz: a lady randomly showing up, claiming to be the embodiment of the city; a friend who determines what kind of day it’ll be by flipping breaded toast (is it a butter-up side day?); an orb; future-seeing dreams; and an eclectic set of neighbors. The story is told from the voice of a fifty-six-year-old protagonist looking back on his nine-year-old self. His mom is struggling after dad leaves and pieces of danger manifest themselves. The boy longs to play the piano and yes, as the beginning states, he dies and rises again.
This book explores the themes of life, as well as that of art and music (there is even a special moment dedicated to that of The Goldfinch painting; sound familiar?). As the protagonist proclaims, “Mine is a story of love reciprocated. It is the story of loss and hope, and of the strangeness that lies just beneath the surface tension of daily life, a strangeness infinite fathoms in depth.” And, in the end, ““No matter what, everything will be okay in the long run.”
If you are willing to part with your Koontz expectations and sit around as the tale is spun, then you may find some particular enjoyment in this story. What you’ll find is this (as Kootnz writes): “That’s life. Always something, more good than bad, but always interesting if you’re paying attention.” And that is this book, too.
Thanks to Bantam and Random House for providing an electronic copy of this book for me to review.