Deeply Odd

Deeply Odd

I didn’t find Odd Apocalypse quite as unsatisfying as Julie D did, but I did feel that it… lacked… something that the first three Odd Thomas books had.

Julie writes:

I will read the next one simply to see if this ongoing murk ever clears up, but at this point feel it will be more from a sense of duty than anything else. And to give Koontz a chance to pull it all together in a way that makes me like all three of the second trilogy in a “really one book” sort of way.

Well Koontz’s latest sequel, Deeply Odd , doesn’t close out the trilogy, it is clear at the end that there is at least one more Odd Thomas book in the wings, but at the risk of too many spoilers, this one left me feeling like Julie’s prediction, that this is “a really one book” sort of thing may well pan out to be right. I think Koontz is going somewhere with Odd Thomas that may well turn out to be very satisfactory indeed.

The element in the last two books I found most unsatisfying was the presence of the enigmatic Annamaria, a character who felt bafflingly flat in a way that just bothered me. She is so passive, so enigmatic, but in a way that her character never advances, never grows never reveals itself, never unfolds. She felt like she wasn’t really there. In this book, though, I had one of those sudden flashes of insight and I think I understand her a bit better, even if I still don’t quite like her yet. Here are some of the things about her that Koontz reminds us of in the first chapter (those of us who have read the previous books are being reminded, new readers, I guess are being filled in):

“She appeared to have been ready to give birth in about a month, but she claimed that she had been pregnant for a long time, and insisted that she would be pregnant longer still.”

“She was mysterious but not deceptive.”

“… her large dark eyes, which reflected the sparkling sea, seemed as deep as galaxies.”

“… there are people who want to kill her.”

“She possessed an air of timelessness, as if she might have lived in any century of recorded history, or in all of them.”

“Annamaria’s smile is so comforting that, in its radiance, you can almost believe that this world offers nothing more threatening than what you’d find in Pooh Corner—in spite of her references to the slaughter of the Spartans.”

All these hints suddenly added up to one image: the woman of Revelation 12, who is about to give birth, with a dragon waiting to devour her child.

Oh, this is indeed an Apocalypse. Annamaria is a Marian figure. And while Mary isn’t really passive, her inactivit is often mistaken for passivity, her actions are usually understated. She provides the definition of what Ephesians 5 means by “submit.” She submits to the will of God, and thus her whole life becomes a figure of the Gospel. So while, I don’t yet see what exactly Annamaria is and what her role will be, I’m more patient toward watching it unfold. And though I can’t see exactly how this is going to work out, I think the next book may well pull us a little deeper into her mystery. Finally. If she is flat, if she is mysterious, I think that’s perhaps by design instead of a clumsiness on Koontz’s part. At least I’m willing to give him more time to show me what he’s doing. In this book he’s given me enough of a hook to make me want to read the next one.

And one of the things that if pulling me forward is my desire to unravel the mystery of Edie, Mrs Fischer. She’s also enigmatic and impenetrable. (What does she mean by “smoothed out and fully blue?”) But in a way that is much more satisfying than Annamaria. Koontz lets us learn about her, reveals bits and pieces of who she is. It’s maddeningly slow like unpeeling an onion, but also narratively satisfying. I always feel like there will be more answers. The pacing is just constant enough that I don’t get bored of her.

The other thing this book is is deeply Catholic. (And like the other Odd Thomas books, deeply infused with a spirit of T. S. Eliot.) A few of my favorite passages that indicate why although the Odd Thomas books are populated with psychopathic Satan worshipers and contain incidents of ritual killing and demonic possession, it still is for the most part a headspace that I enjoy being in.

Theologians tell us that this is a fallen world, that Adam and Eve broke it when they fell from grace. Maybe you’re not a believer, but if you’re honest, you’ll have to agree that something is wrong with this place. Senseless violence, corrupting envy, greed, blind hatred, and willful ignorance seem proof that Earth has gone haywire, but so is the absurdity that we see everywhere. The people of a broken world, off the rails and wobbling trackless on their journeys to oblivion or meaning, are frequently going to be foolish, sometimes in entertaining ways. When amusing, their foolishness—and mine—can be a lamp that brightens my spirit in spite of all threats and suffering.

“Child, do you know where truly great courage comes from, the kind of courage that will never back down?”

I said, “Faith?”

“And love,” she said, “Faith is a kind of love, you know. Love of what is unseen but certain. Love makes us strong and brave.”

Although I know the world is an intricately more complex place than it appears to most people, although I understand in my blood and bones that humanity is a turbulent family aboard an endless train, on an infinite journey to shores that can only dimly be imagined by the living, I don’t see signs and portents everywhere I look. Most often, a haloed moon means nothing more than that reflective volcanic ash has made its way into the stratosphere, and a two headed goat is only a genetic curiosity. The mommy-porn genre currently sweeping the book industry and the Babylonian excess of most television shows probably fall within the historical norm in our culture’s sleaze index and are not omens of the imminent collapse of civilization, though if I were not so busy, I might start building an ark.

Intuition is the highest form of knowledge. What we learn from others can be mistaught by those not a fraction as knowledgeable as they pretend or by propagandists with agendas. We are born with intuition, however, which includes the natural law, a sense of right and wrong. A lot of people rebel so continually against natural law that not only does that part of their intuition atrophy but also every other aspect of it. They strike the match, open the door, give their money to an investment adviser named Slick, and trust that if they are really nice to the thug with the switchblade, he’ll be nice to them.

Although I am an optimist, my imagination can conjure countless deadly hands from any shuffled deck before the cards are dealt. I am, therefore, perplexed by so many people who, whether they’re optimists or pessimists, trust any dealer as long as he claims to share their vision of how all things ought to be, who trust their own vision to the extent that they never question is, and who believe that four of a kind and royal flushes always fall by chance in a world without meaning. To such folks, Hitler was a distant and half-comic figure—until he wasn’t; and mad mullahs promising to use nuclear weapons as soon as they obtain them are likewise harmless—until they aren’t. I, on the other hand, believe life has profound meaning and that the meaning of Creation itself is benign, but I also know that there are such things as card mechanics who can manipulate the deck to their great advantage. in life, little happens by chance, and most bad hands we’re dealt are the consequence of our actions, which are shaped by our wisdom and our ignorance. In my experience, survival depends on hoping for the best while recognizing that disaster is more likely and that it can’t be averted if it can’t be imagined.

These were combed from the first half of the book. I wasn’t marking them as I read, but flipping through the book I found them again quite easily because they were moments that stuck.

Again, Dean Koontz is not for the faint of heart. If you are sensitive and easily bothered, do not read Koontz. While none of the violence in his books is gratuitous, there is violence. While he never makes evil look good, he does stare it in the face and show what true evil looks like. It’s ugly, horrific, grotesque and yes, banal.

One thing I love about Odd Thomas, and really all of Koontz’s books is that he makes good look so appealing. It’s good food enjoyed with friends, it’s good companionship and good books.

Also, I think I mentioned it before, but this is a great interview: Dean Koontz with Raymond Arroyo talking about writing and faith.

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  • +JMJ+

    When I read the title “The Decline and Fall of the English Major”, I thought of my own university education. I remember the disappointment when I arrived at uni and saw that most of the courses were less about a great inheritance of letters and more about what each course coordinator or lecturer was really into at the moment. And yes, most of the papers felt like cabins in the bowels of the ship. Some, admittedly, more spacious than others.

    The idea of being a citizen of a civilisation—of something beyond one’s immediate needs and wants—seems tied up to a discussion I’ve been having lately with someone who is very annoyed at parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. (I don’t mean to be starting up a war here, but I think the context is important.) As she sees it, the worst part of this decision is that it can mean serious health risks for others. Never mind the science for a minute; her point is that it’s not enough to take responsibility for the personal consequences of your own decisions, when these have consequences for the rest of the community as well.

    Now, I have a friend who has studied the subject of vaccinations quite thoroughly (investigating each vaccine and each disease separately), and has concluded that she is raising her children in a time and place in which sanitation, medicine and other readily available resources mean that they do not have to rely on vaccines. And I respect her research, her choice, and her right to make this decision for her children. (Heck, I even lean that way myself! =P) But I also see the other woman’s point that the best decision for one’s own family is not necessarily the best decision for the whole community to which the family belongs.

    And I remember another friend’s impression of Catholic homeschooling as a “Protestant” lifestyle choice, because it is a kind of separation from the rest of the faith community. If your response to the failures of your local parochial school is to say, in effect, “That’s not my problem,” then perhaps the best decision for your family is also a poor one for the community your children are supposed to be part of. Now, I’m VERY pro-homeschooling myself, but these comments from people I respect haunt me a little.

    We are definitely living in an age which allows us to be more flexible than before, and we don’t have to do anything in certain flawed ways just because everyone else in the community does. I do like that about our world. However, I wonder how correct my friends are about one danger of my own decisions to “live and let live.” By creating a private space for myself to stay true to my principles, am I not also retreating into my own cabin instead of trying to get everyone to join me on the open deck?

    A third thread in my thoughts is a novel I recently reread: Gagamba by F. Sionil Jose. It is about a large cast of barely connected characters who become a kind of community in death, when they all happen to be in or around the same building that is destroyed in an earthquake. We are told that the luckiest survivor is someone nicknamed “Spider Man” because of his deformities: he sells lottery tickets outside the restaurant and is often tipped by the regulars, but is not allowed inside himself. (See the theme of luck running through his life???) I started wondering whether Jose was using him to impart the “secret” of survival, and I was blown away when I realised that the moral gave the opposite advice. The key to this character’s survival may be his status as an outsider (which is a burden of his deformity), but Jose is hardly advising readers to be outsiders themselves. I daresay that Jose’s moral is the reverse: that the decision to be an outsider is what creates the deformity.

  • Alan Jacobs has had some interesting thoughts/links about the State Of The Humanities. I also think you would really enjoy his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, if you haven’t seen it already.

  • +JMJ+

    Thanks for replying anyway, Melanie! Maybe someday we’ll have a proper face-to-face chat and not have to worry about blogs eating our replies to each other. =)

    Incidentally, my friend who doesn’t care for Catholic homeschooling had to do it for a year or two because of the very reason you’ve mentioned: during a career slump, he and his wife couldn’t afford to send their children to the parochial school and the parish didn’t want to cut them any breaks. (He’s still upset about that, and has a lot to say about Catholics who care more about the poor in other countries rather than the poor in their own parishes. Which is another issue related to community!)

    I agree that the connection between vaccinations and homeschooling is not very substantial, and that my making it says more about my personal reasons for wanting to homeschool than about homeschooling in general. In my case, since I used to be a Catholic school teacher, I will always be bugged by the possibility that I am being selfish toward the larger community by concentrating my talents and energies in the way that homeschooling requires.

    Of course it’s not “either-or” (and your family is a great example of how it is “both-and”), but it’s related to my greater thoughts on our age and how easy it has become to live—and maybe even to thrive—without each other.

  • Grrr…. stupid blog just lost my long comment, E. I don’t have time to retype it all. The gist was I think the parallel between homeschooling and vaccinations is a weak one and I feel strongly that homeschooling does not separate us from the faith community. And it’s not an either-or. One can support and work to improve one’s parish school without sending one’s children to said school. There are many reasons to opt out of parochial school besides seeing the school as a failure. We decided to homeschool long before we moved to our parish and it is more of a positive move to strengthen our family culture rather than a rejection of the particular school, which I haven’t investigated much it may well be a good school. But a big reason many families opt out is they can’t afford to send their kids the parochial school route. Homeschooling is much cheaper. I just don’t see a moral obligation to send kids to the parish school, though I know some people try to argue as if there is one.

    Sara, thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check it out. The book title sounds vaguely familiar, but no I haven’t read it.