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Book Review: “Odd Thomas” – Dean Koontz

By Séamus Smyth

The title “Odd Thomas,” is the name of the central character who is an unassuming high school graduate who is a rather unremarkable young man except his peculiar ability to see the dead. Yes, those who have failed to either rise to the heavens, or succumb to the heated basement of hell are viewed in 20/20 vision for Odd as he battles away as a short-order cook in his native hometown.

His choice to work a seemingly unambitious gig at the local diner is all because of his desire to be normal. He is madly in love with a woman, whose name is equal in obscurity, Stormy Llewellyn. Despite her and a handful of other characters that are aware of Odd’s strange insight into the afterlife, they all remain loyal to Odd and refuse to turn his ordinary dreams into a media circus.

With Odd’s gift comes the ability to know when death is close. Groups of unpleasant spirits gather around a home or person and await the inevitable. This early detection gives Odd the opportunity to catch a perpetrator in the act, which predictably leads to a second life as an unofficial police detective/keeper of life. It’s a story that has been written and contorted into various forms and although Koontz’s ghostly tone and metaphorical brilliance do make it a book worth reading until the final page, it is certainly not deserving of a place at the forefront of fiction.

A sudden twist halfway through the tale completely robs Odd Thomas of its surging momentum. Where once the book was heading for a colossal battle between the pure and the diluted, it instead begins from scratch, like a distance runner who has had a sudden change of heart.

The reader is instead invited to play detective alongside Thomas, but with so many warm-blooded sycophants surrounding him plus the nameless ghouls he encounters at every corner, it becomes a boar of an assignment.

The lack of soul (literally) in Koontz’s effort is made up by, predictably, the relationship between Thomas and Stormy. Yes, its two young birds just trying to build their own nest in an increasingly complex world, a story that has been replicated throughout each generation, but it still sounds fresh because the concept of young love rarely loses its flavour.

Koontz injects life into supernatural fantasies through his creative writing, although with vampires, zombies and werewolves infiltrating the shelves of bookstores everywhere, it feels as though this medicinal shot may have been unwarranted.

2/5

Books

By Séamus Smyth

What would the world be like if JFK was never assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963? It’s a profound question that legendary author Stephen King dwells over in his latest novel, appropriately titled, “11/22/63.”

Al Templeton, a fast-food restaurant owner whose reputation is routinely scrutinized due to the rock bottom prices of his cheeseburgers, decides to finally share an unexplainable secret with one of his favourite clients, Jake Epping. Epping had never considered how Templeton was able to offer such desirable prices on his lunch, nor did he care, as it was merely a place to gather his thoughts over his lunch break. He works as an English teacher, going through a difficult divorce from a former alcoholic who accuses him of being incapable of true emotion.

As Epping is marking another stack of uninspired essays from grown adults still striving to capture a high school diploma, an essay by a janitor named Harry Dunning moves him beyond comprehension. The essay describes a Halloween night decades ago where Dunning witnessed his father murder his entire family and shatter his leg that has left him with a noticeable limp to this day. Epping immediately assigns the project an A+ despite the rampant grammar and punctuation errors and will from then on always fantasize about what it would have been like for Dunning if that Halloween night had never occurred.

Once Dunning succeeds in attaining his diploma, the two decide to dine at Templeton’s diner to rejoice. Templeton arrives at the table looking unexplainably rugged as though he had just aged a few years within a matter of days. The idea clearly wasn’t plausible, at least not until Templeton asks Jake to visit him in the back of the restaurant so he can show him something that will alter his life forever.

In the dark depths of the back of his burger joint, Templeton unveils an invisible staircase that somehow leads to a sunny day in Lisbon Falls, Maine, circa 1958. The miraculous portal to the past is how Templeton explains how he prices his burgers so low; he purchases them in 1958 for a modicum of the price he would have to pay in 2011, and then simply travels back to the present era. Templeton has made the trip dozens of times and confesses that he occasionally extends his visit past more than just a routine trip to the butcher shop.

He has been conducting intensive research over this particular period of time and realizes that there is one singular event that he feels he, or someone else with access to the portal, could improve the history of the world if they chose to intervene.

Of course this tragic event that Templeton is referring to is the assassination of JFK, supposedly at the hands of Lee Oswald.  Templeton explains that he is almost positive that Oswald is the culprit, but he needs more time to remove any doubt. Yet, Templeton’s last visit to the past had not just been for a few months, but instead had gone on for years. One of the twists of the portal is that one can spend a lifetime in the past, but upon returning, they will have always been gone for no longer than exactly two minutes.

So although Templeton only lost 120 seconds in 2011, he returns notably aged, but even worse, he is now suffering from terminal lung cancer, courtesy of his strict dedication to cigarettes.

The sudden deterioration of health forces Templeton to look for someone to finish the job that he had set out to do which is to determine if Oswald is indeed the killer and if so, eliminate him.

It’s a lofty task but because Templeton feels Epping up to the adventure, he involuntarily becomes Templeton’s last hope at altering the course of the world forever.

The story is a heart-racing, paradox-filled thriller that does an excellent duty of juxtaposing 2011 with the late 1950s and shows where the world has made noticeable improvements, but also how it has lost its way.

The time theory concept is not exactly a ground-breaking fantasy, but King manages to paint a clean slate over a restless concept that never seems to want to be laid to rest.

Book review

By Séamus Smyth

Nicolas Carr’s “The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to our Brains,” explores humankind’s obsession with technology in a heavy, delicious dose of new-wave Neil Postman/Marshall McLuhan that pulls the rolling chair from underneath your feet and forces you to look beyond the digital monitor that has transfixed the eyes of the advanced world.

The book cites top intellectuals in their fields, who seem to all agree that their ability to concentrate has steadily decreased the more they rely on the Internet for information.

Reading a book has become a chore for many, as the task of remaining seated and focused on the archaic scribbling of an old soul has become too much to bear for countless former book worms.

Carr explains how the diminishing use of books has led to individuals skimming the daily news, reviews and articles on the Internet, rather than reading the entries word for word. He cites studies that demonstrate how this new form of information gathering is hurting one’s ability to sufficiently retain memories or any record of what they have just browsed through.

The book shifts perspective every few chapters, jumping from a quick history lesson on how books became popularized, the theories of McLuhan (specifically “the medium is the message,”) and he then explains how he came to the conclusion that his own reliance on technology has reached an alarming height.

He recalled the early days of writing on a computer, when he didn’t feel comfortable editing his work until it was printed off and he could use an old-fashioned HB No.2 pencil.

But this early and awkward transition phase quickly vanished as he began conducting all of life’s daily tasks via the Internet, whether it be ordering groceries, reading the news or ironically, writing “The Shallows.”

As Carr’s complete embrace of the Internet began to recede, he began to take offense to the constant comparison of the brain to a human-created technology.

The way we are “programmed,” or “wired,” are inaccurate descriptions of the human thought tank, because our mind is more complex that we can ever imagine. The mind is not a hard drive or memory stick, but a divine creation of un-parallel potential, that should never be confused with a piece of machinery.

What is concrete about this analysis is that society has failed at examining the potential consequences of introducing new technologies.

Once the animal is unleashed to the masses there is no way to tame it or even modify its influence. Upon completing the compelling codex, I decided to distance myself from the tight grasp of the Net.

It is, after all, our mind that determines how long we choose to indulge in the infinite space of the World Wide Web.

“The Shallows” should be a must-read for the entire generation that have chosen the convenience, and fast-food nature of the Internet over books that have the potential to greatly enlighten the mind, but instead collect dust on library shelves. Of course, the irony of technology becomes abundantly clear with this minor request, because this important entry on how powerful the Internet has become, will only be read by a tiny minority of a depleting breed of intellectuals and theorists.