Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

I hate violence. I hate injustice more. I just want to be a fry cook, but the world demands more from me than eggs and pancakes.
— Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas sees dead people. The kinds of dead people unable to let go of their Earth lives, for something holds them here, tears at them, as they attempt to find peace. Along with these dead people, Odd also sees the dark forces (named “bodachs”) that follow evil people around as they plan and plot destruction. Odd’s sixth sense — which he refers to as a “psychic magnetism” — allows him to solve crimes for the local chief of police, chase murderers through his neighbourhood, and let Elvis cry on his shoulder. So, when a horde of bodachs follow one Bob Robertson into the diner where Odd works as a fry cook, he finds himself swept up in a gang plot to shoot up a department store, which he believes will kill his girlfriend and cause 9/11-type chaos.

It’s difficult to tell just what Dean Koontz was hoping to accomplish with this book, written from the perspective of 20-year-old Odd. Instead of the taut, supernatural thriller promised on the publisher’s website, the book reads like a manifesto, a how-to for the video game generation, encouraging only the cleanest of clean lifestyles. Koontz has made his protagonist a churchgoer who doesn’t drink, smoke, or swear, and who constantly reminds readers of his virginity. He’s a spokesman for Christian values in the New Age, giving Koontz a vehicle to constantly reiterate his plan for living the perfect life — have faith in fate and persevere, ’cause you never know when your time may be up. And, if you refrain from swearing or sex while you’re at it, the Pearly Gates will be far more welcoming.

While it is possible for a 20-year-old kid to embrace clean living in this way, Koontz seems almost entirely unaware that it is also possible to be morally upright while still opening yourself up to the modern world. Not every kid who plays video games of an afternoon needs a lesson in ethics, and to assume they do is reckless and lazy. Odd Thomas sees Koontz damning the young person’s world without taking the time to explore it from any angle other than that alluded to by school shootings and rap music. Koontz’s protagonist takes pot shots at popular culture whenever he can, while making references to Shakespeare and William Blake to demonstrate his own “adult” intelligence. But, what can Odd really give his readers by way of worldliness and self-knowledge having never left the four walls of his community? He represents the kind of young person who’s afraid, invisibly scarred by events that have happened to other people, refusing to learn from his own ideology of living life to the fullest. How can we be expected to sympathise with and relate to a guy philosophising on life in the new millennium when he himself hasn’t lived it?

Odd Thomas‘s actual “plot” becomes nothing more than a loosely held together support system for Koontz’s piddling philosophies and outdated ramblings about the ever-joyous good old days. The author is laughably obvious when spouting his disregard for the modern day as his protagonist poo-poos the literature taught in American colleges as “misanthropic dogmatism, often written by suicidal types,” names Odd’s father’s stupid-yet-hot teenage lover “Britney,” and reminds us (like we need it) that we live in the age “when fame is the alter at which most people worship”. There is no leeway in Koontz’s Good vs. Evil debate. All lines are clearly drawn — either you’re good or your not. And when you’re not, chances are it has something to do with the media’s obsession with criminals like Charles Manson, bad parenting, or — you guessed it — video games.

Just as annoying as Odd’s constant soapboxing are the plot contrivances that assist him with his day saving. The kid sees dead people and dark forces when it’s convenient — to save him from a coyote attack, for example — but loses his powers for the exact same reason. Bodachs are said to reside with those plotting evil, yet for some unexplained reason, they stay away from the geniuses plotting the department store massacre. A simple glance at the crusty gent in the diner sends enough goose bumps down Odd’s spine that he breaks into the guy’s house to find out just what he is planning, yet when face to face with a Satanic lord, Odd’s sense of danger mysteriously turns itself off. Odd tells us he his sixth sense gives him a major “advantage” over his adversaries, before pondering just how those geniuses managed to mask their horridness — “[It’s] as if they became aware of my gift… manipulated me.” So, they had an advantage of their own, right? Which all but renders your powers useless, right?

My favourite idiot-moment for Odd, though, is his confusion over the meaning of the word “coven” just moments after making reference to Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and the furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. And, don’t even get me started on Odd’s unfailing belief in fate, which he mentions again and again while solidly working to alter it. Koontz just doesn’t know what to do with Odd beyond ripping off The Sixth Sense and promoting morality among the young. Odd’s holier-than-thou attitude contradicts his sickly sweet denunciation of his hero-status, failing to endear him as a confident, stand-up guy and turning him instead into the kid on prom night who guards the punch bowl to make sure no one spikes it. He’s too straight-laced and wrapped up in his own divinity to be any fun at all, which makes his sad end all the more apt but probably not in the way Koontz envisioned. The moral just can’t get along anymore — boohoo. They might if they, you know, learned to lighten up a little.