Dean Koontz is beginning to sound an awful lot like Cormac McCarthy, I reckon.
Not that I mind. I’ve been studying and writing on McCarthy for almost twenty years. I belong, in other words, to that group that ‘remembers when.’ Call us wizened if you like.
Back in those days, before The Road and No Country for Old Men, there were debates. We wondered if Suttree were the masterpiece. Or was it Blood Meridian? And where did the latter rightfully belong? All the Pretty Horses was downright funny and entertaining compared to what he normally wrote. And people seemed to appreciate it. It did sell, after all. Not many McCarthy books did.
And then came the fateful day on Oprah. Well, that was the beginning of the end. For many of us, anyway.
Here comes this Koontz character, now. The first book in his new Jane Hawk series was alright. The Silent Corner, he called it. A tactical thriller, with an FBI agent gone rogue to prevent mankind from being controlled through nanotechnology. That may sound like high-falutin stuff to you. But the way Koontz tells it, it’s the classic battle of good versus evil. People of virtue, sacrifice, and honor putting the metal to the self-interested, self-satisfied buffoons. Throw a healthy dose of the Catholic tradition in there and you’ve got yourself a satisfying yarn.
But he didn’t sound like McCarthy. Yet.
Now the sequel, well, this here is getting McCarthy-like. Jane Hawk rode on in The Whispering Room. But this time Koontz animates the sky like he’s been studying The Border Trilogy. Witness:
The wind shaped the mist into phantom forms, which it harried west to east, as if the ghosts of countless sailors drowned at sea were returning to shore, an exodus from many thousands of watery graves in some Last Days accounting of the human experience and a reckoning of its debts.
If that ain’t straight out of the old school McCarthy playbook, I don’t know what is. And if that’s not grand enough for you, here’s how Koontz paints the climactic moment of a tense shootout:
…he collapsed in a judgment of blood like a penitent whose confession was rejected by some angry god.
That’s a bit chilling, if you were to ask me. Passages like that throughout The Whispering Room make me wonder if Koontz is calling in some literary favors. I mean, if you want to get all apocalyptic, who better to call on in this day and age than McCarthy?
Koontz seems to have adopted another of McCarthy’s habits, too: big words. I mean, them big words that fit in just the right place and there’s no other word for it and you’re happy you looked it up anyway. Koontz talks about “a general air of senescence” at one point, for instance. And I nearly jumped out of my skin when he combined one of these big OED words with a landscape: “…squinting at land rutilant with the light of the low sun, as if some nuclear catastrophe had rendered it radioactive and unfit to sustain life.” That right there is worthy.
I’ve heard McCarthy described as a prophet. A somewhat reluctant truth-teller in wolf’s clothing. That kind of thing. But McCarthy’s best days are probably past, though some of us yet hope. Still, who will take up that mantle? Who will prophesy?
If Koontz is to do it, he’s off to a promising start. He reminds us of the dangers in our midst. And the people of our times need to be told what evil is. Not just bad guys. Evil, with a capital “E.” I’ll leave you, then, with a bit of that from Koontz, who is someone worth listening to on this matter.
Evil…as it was in fact: ruthless and irrational, selfish above all else, convinced of its righteousness and of the beauty of disorder.