By Dean Koontz
Bantam Books, 2014, 418 pages
Dean Koontz, best-selling author of over sixty novels, frequently writes tales with “magical realism,” as he does here. This genre was used with perfection by many other writers, especially South Americans, and also by Nobel Prize Winners Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970, winner in 1966) and Gabriel Garcia Marques (1927-2014, winner in 1982).
Magical realism combines facts with fantasy. An example from one of Agnon’s stories is a man who was left behind accidently by his companions who were sailing on a ship; they saw him floating on a carpet on the ship’s side, not missing the trip and reaching their destination. Another example is seeing a man crossing a bridge; he begins by walking across, but soon he is seen elevated above the ground and floating to the bridge’s end. These fantastic descriptions add a dimension to the tale and can cause readers to think how they want to interpret the account. The events can be taken literally, symbolically, allegorically, the mind-set of the individual, or even as reality viewed from a different perspective for various reasons.
Koontz uses it in his novels in two different ways. In some, as in this novel, the “magic realism” only occurs rarely, during certain episodes, although the fantastic element is important to the development of the plot and the meaning of the story. In others, as in the seven Odd Thomas novels, the fantastic occurs frequently, for the main character, Odd Thomas, has the ability to see dead people, sees them often, and is alerted by them to the many interesting events that occur in the tale.
In this novel, Jonah Kirk begins to explore his extraordinary musical talent at age eight and later during the 1960s, during the riots in America against the Vietnam War, when some crooked people used the distractions of the disturbances to steal. Jonah is part of a dysfunctional family, dysfunctional because his father is a lying drunk who abandons his family. His mother, her parents, and his neighbors are unusually nice, with one and possibly two exceptions, a beautiful woman who is living temporarily on the sixth floor, who threatens to kill him, and his landlord who said the apartment owners gave her the apartment rent-free to repair the apartment and who is acting suspiciously. Jonah has a strange friend who has many hang-ups and his sister, both of whom he loves as friends; the brother as a co-artist, a saxophonist, who plays with him as he plays the piano.
Jonah is also very friendly with an upstairs neighbor, a Japanese man, much older than he, who was imprisoned with other Japanese when the United States feared that Japanese-Americans may aid the US enemy Japan. This man lost his mother and sister in a fire during the internment. When suspicions arise that the beautiful woman and superintendent and others are involved in nefarious deeds, this man of Japanese descent is able to call on fellow prior internment Japanese who are now in various strategic positions to aid Jonah and later the FBI in discovering what is happening and why.
The magical realism starts at the beginning of the tale when a beautiful woman greets Jonah as he is sitting outside his apartment house. She knows all about him, although they never met. He calls her Pearl, but she tells him that she is “The City” which assumed human form. Jonah is sad because his father refuses to let him play on a piano and Pearl magically causes one to appear at the neighborhood center and Jonah finds that the woman there wants to teach him to play. Pearl reveals to Jonah about a man and a woman who will impact upon his life, both bad people. One is the beautiful woman from the sixth floor. This woman seems able magically to enter his apartment when it is locked and take his picture while he is asleep, as a warning that if he reveals anything about her, including the strange smell coming from her room, she will kill him. He does not tell his mom, but he does tell his Japanese friend, who organizes his Japanese posse.
The cast of characters in this drama are delightful people, people everyone would enjoy knowing and having in their homes, except, of course the few bad people. Readers will enjoy reading about them and see what they do in this engrossing tale.