From the Corner of His Eye
Reviewed: June 20, 2003
By: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Bantam Books
729 Pages, $11.99
I wonder where they’re shelving Dean Koontz in the bookstores
these days? In Whitehorse I know he still occupies the section relegated
to thrillers, along with Stephen King and a number of other name brands,
but From the Corner of His Eye is very quietly labelled as a “novel”
on the spine.
When I was travelling in March I noticed that Koontz was just
in among the general fiction. While there are elements of the paranormal
and the thriller in this novel, they are probably not there to such an extent
that it would be necessary to put the book on any other shelf. Koontz has
been blending genres for many years now, and the only books of his that are
clearly one thing or another are the ones he wrote under his several pen
names when he was new to the market and his publishers didn’t want him to
be quite so prolific.
Koontz has some very specific concerns as a writer, and one of
them seems to be that we are defined as people by how we handle the bad things
that happen in our lives. Along with that comes the idea that just being
a good person will not exempt you from live’s vicissitudes. Evil things do
happen to people who don’t deserve them to happen. There’s no point in sitting
around wondering what you did to deserve this evil. Chances are it has nothing
to do with you except for the trauma it will inflict on your life.
This randomness is clearly demonstrated within the first 50 pages
of the novel, when a freak car accident takes the life of Agnes Lampion’s
husband, Joey, and nearly costs her the life of her unborn child, who will
grow up to become an extraordinary young man.
Also in those 50 pages we meet the man called Enoch Cain Jr.,
and we watch him commit the first of the many atrocities which follow him
through this novel. Cain (now how’s that for a symbolic name?) murders his
wife in order to become wealthy. He has nothing against her; in fact, he
loves her. But her welfare, or anyone else’s for that matter, is secondary
to his. Basing his life’s philosophy on the works of a sappy self-help writer
who produced such stunners as You Have a Right to Be Happy, Cain develops
a plan to produce happiness for himself and will not let anyone or anything
stand in the way.
Cain is a totally deluded believer in his own perfection, his
own desirability, his own brilliance. As he charts his disastrous course
through life we soon find that he is not exactly evil. He is so convinced
of the rightness of his own self-assessment that he believes the women he
has raped actually wanted him, and that he has what amounts to a duty to
rearrange the world to benefit himself.
Only Detective Thomas Vanadium, a former priest with a talent
for slight of hand coin tricks, sees Cain for what he is. So Junior takes
care of that - he thinks.
Meanwhile, Anges has given birth to Batholomew, a very special
boy who eventually learns to walk between the raindrops. The thing is, there’s
a moment of psychic connection during which Cain hears that name in his mind
while he lies in hospital, and he somehow has a presentment that someday
Bartholomew will be a danger to him.
He spends his years looking for the wrong kid, though. He thinks
the boy must be the child of a black preacher’s daughter that he had raped
about nine month’s earlier. He doesn’t know that she died giving birth to
a daughter named Angel, and that her sister, Celestina, has taken the child
to raise as her own.
Angel and Barty share an ability that Vanadium has in a smaller
way, a kind of connection to the quantum mechanics that underlie the nature
of reality. This enables them to do things that will ultimately save their
lives and some of those of their families. The novel is mostly about how
they grow up, how they finally meet, how they discover what they can do,
and what they chose to do about it.
I’m leaving out a lot in these comments. You see, this book is
really about choices and about kindness, and about how living a good and
loving life can make up for even the worst hand that the universe might deal
you. For much of the time when we are not following Junior Cain, the book
is pastoral and quiet. We are watching a couple of special children grow
up, seeing how the members of a diverse cast of characters eventually meet
each other and form a kind of super family.
There are a lot of surprises, of course, and there is also suspense.
There is much pain and quiet a bit of frantic action, but the Cain subplot
is resolved a full 27 pages before the book ends. We have been travelling
with these people for four years by that time, and there are decades to go
in their story.
Thrillers generally take place in a few days, or perhaps weeks.
One of Koontz’s earlier books, Intensity, covered only about 48 hours.
Of course, it was a pretty intense two days. Such a leisurely, almost soothing,
presentation of narrative as we get in From the Corner of His Eye doesn’t
really fit into the thriller section of the bookstore, but that’s probably
where you’ll find it in most places.