Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From the Corner of His Eye

Yesterday I wrote about why I dealt with Gillard the way that I did in Return of the Guardian King, how I ...

*** more spoilers ***




... more or less phased him out of the narrative, both in terms of words addressed to him and in terms of his importance to the plot. When I was done, and encountered the objections of some readers who wanted to see more of him, I was reminded of a similar phenomenon in one of Dean Koontz's books.

A few years ago I read Koontz's From the Corner of His Eye, one of the two autographed hardbound books he sent me in response to a letter I'd written to him (the only letter I've ever written to an author!). I enjoyed it, of course, because I enjoy all of his books. I like his characters, I love his use of language, and I'm intrigued by some of the things that he does as a writer -- the names he gives his characters, the different allegorical elements in his stories, the plots, etc. In this book one of the themes was that evil is really empty and ultimately ineffectual. I'm not sure he intended this, but it's a beautiful truth relative to Satan and the Kingdom of Darkness. Satan's a lion and a hunter, but in the end, he has no teeth. Jesus has already defeated him. We just have to believe that and act accordingly.

Which, since we are fallen people living in the midst of a world of deception, isn't always so easy.

Anyway, in From the Corner of His Eye, Koontz introduces a perfectly awful villain in Enoch "Junior" Cain (and the name, of course, is no accident). [As an example of interesting things Koontz does with names, the hero, Bartholomew, starts out as a baby born to Agnes and Joseph, whose uncles are Jacob and Edom (where Esau lived) Isaacson... The co-hero, an ex-priest turned cop is Thomas Vanadium, vanadium being one of the elements on the periodic table, often used as a catalyst or in alloys. The "Thomas" harkens back to Doubting Thomas, as does the character.]

Anyway, back to Junior Cain. In the first few pages Koontz takes you from the beauty and wonder of a hike in the lush Oregon woods ("The primeval forests of the Oregon coast raised a great green cathedral across the hills, and the land was as hushed as any place of worship...") to the complete arrogance and self-delusion of this psychopath. He kills his wife, whom he tells himself he loves deeply and thoroughly, by shoving her off a lookout tower, for reasons I can no longer recall -- money, I believe. He derives a great feeling of power and life from doing it. And also remorse...

The self-delusion is fascinating and the journey is one where gradually you -- and Junior -- realize that he's hollow. He has nothing inside himself, no real capacity to enjoy anything, even though he has everything -- money, good looks, charming personality, the ability to commit a heinous crime and get away with it (which gives him great pleasure for a time). Eventually, as he sinks deeper into delusion and depravity, imagining himself to be greater than any other man, his disgusting insides begin to manifest on the outside. At the end, he is no longer handsome, but bald, pocked and burned, his life unraveling around him as his deeds come back to bite him.

And in the end, when you are expecting a big confrontation between him and Thomas...

**Spoilers here, too ***

*** Also some bad words***

*** Beware!***

...when you are expecting a big confrontation between him and Thomas, you don't get it. Cain is dispatched in a suprising and almost casual way that is completely anticlimactic. At first I was mildly put off, even a bit puzzled and disappointed. But then I thought about it and realized it was exactly right. Remember the point that Koontz kept making through the narrative? One of the walk-on characters encapsulates it well midway through the book:

"The problem with movies and books is they make evil look glamorous, exciting, when it's no such thing. It's boring and it's depressing and it's stupid. Criminals are after cheap thrills and easy money, and when they get them, all they want is more of the same, over and over. They're shallow, empty, boring people who couldn't give you five minutes of interesting conversation if you had the piss-poor luck to be at a party full of them. Maybe some can be monkey-clever some of the time, but they aren't hardly ever smart. God must surely want us to laugh at these fools, because if we don't laugh at 'em, then one way or another, we give 'em respect. If you don't mock a bastard like Cain, if you fear him too much or even if you just look at him in an all-solemn sort of way, then you're paying him more respect than I ever intend to."

I kinda think that's a good way to regard Satan, too.

Anyway, I saw it as perfectly right to have Cain eliminated by the weakest characters (physically, anyway) in the book, in an almost comical way to boot. If you go to the Amazon reviews, though, many readers were extremely distressed by the ending. Those who were didn't seem to understand at all what Koontz was doing. They were looking for something that wasn't there. They wanted Watchers or Intensity, and it wasn't that.

All of which I find interesting. Our frame of reference as well as our willingness to see what is actually being presented (rather than what we want to be presented) affects how we perceive things. If you don't see all the things he's putting in, don't make the connections between what's happening to Junior and statements like the above, then when you get to the end, you won't get what you're expecting and disappointment is in store.

Hmmm. I think this concept relates to our relationship with God, too. If we don't really know what His plan is about, then when we get to the end, we're going to expect something that isn't part of it, something entirely different than what He has in store.

Tomorrow, the last two questions...