by Dean Koontz
Bantam (2014), Hardcover, 416 pages
I imagine that Dean Koontz fans will think poorly of The City, his latest book. After all, where is the horror-the action-the gore!? It is a shame when writers aren’t given a chance to leave their comfort zone to try something new. Personally, I found The City magical. The idea of a city made flesh, in the form of a woman who may one day give you a glimpse into her secrets is one of the central ideas of the book. The main character, a boy of 9 named Jonah Kirk, narrates his life story at the age of 57, explaining how he arrived at where he presently is. His father was a deadbeat dad, who is involved with a domestic anti-war terror group like the Weather Underground, who are also murderous bank robbers. His mother is a nightclub singer, and his grandfather a piano player who has played with some larger than life Jazz luminaries.
Jonah himself is a piano playing prodigy; a beautiful part of this book is the constant mentions of popular music of the mid 60s, as well as the character’s love of big band, and jazz music. The story arc takes place between 1966-1967, and Koontz does not hesitate to provide the reader with a thorough description of the era, from what the #1 song of a certain week was, to the style of bell bottoms girls wore in 1967. This aspect of the book made it extremely entertaining for me. The friendship between Jonah and his quiet Japanese-American neighbor, Mr. Yoshioka was the highlight of the book in my opinion. This relationship was highly detailed, and was built upon as the story progressed; right up until the end-their relationship remained one of trust and understanding, and was one of the most poignant stories within the story.
The City is about coming of age in the turbulent 60s, broken families, fear,racism, domestic terrorism, trust, love, belief and perseverance. Jonah and his friend and sometime neighbor Mr.Yoshioka combine forces, with a small group of Japanese-American veterans of the U.S. Internment camp system. Using clues and connections, they piece together a decade-long trail of murder and deceit involving a cast of characters that includes Jonah’s father. There are moments of gut-wrenching sadness, and violence that is portrayed realistically, with an ending that gives one hope for the City and its denizens.
I am not an avid reader of Dean Koontz, and from what I understand, he is mostly known for horror and suspense. I believe that this book had levels of both horror and suspense, although in small doses. What it does possess is beautifully written prose, which at times bordered on poetic with lines such as
“The bright sun painted the pavement with the black shadows of bare-limbed trees, and in the fitful winter wind, those silhouettes twitched underfoot like the many tangled legs of agitated spiders.”
Koontz is a brilliant writer, with descriptions of the mundane that turn ordinary moments into masterpieces. Poetry was a big part of the story as well, as Mr. Yoshioka and Jonah would read and recite haiku often, both in English and Japanese, which is yet another of many layers involved within the story.
Something else that struck me was the attention to detail when dealing with different cultures within a major city. I remember living in Brooklyn in the 60s as a child, and there were Chinese, Norwegians, Italians, Puerto Rican, Irish, African-American and Polish immigrants all living within a square mile of my neighborhood. Dean Koontz did a great job in ensuring that this multi-cultural melting pot of urban life was depicted in all of its glory. It made me think of my childhood in 1967 New York fondly; the music and different people with the funky fashions are what make the book The City feel real.
The city is simply a powerful story that speaks of family commitment, the changing social structures of the 60s, music, art, the criminal mind, life-long friendships and a little bit of magic. One of my favorite books of the year.
out of 5