As a longtime reader (30+ years) of Dean Koontz, over the past decade I have approached his new books with much apprehension. His most recent fiction has become … hopeful and uplifting to some … cloying and overly-sentimental to me. Sentimentality has always been present in most of Koontz’s fiction. His male-female relationships are so stylized and romanticized they often weaken the story.
With The City, Koontz give us a much younger protagonist than usual – 10-year old Jonah Kirk who is a child piano prodigy – growing up with a blue singer mother, jazz pianist grandfather and a mostly-absent father, who is slowly draws the family into extreme danger. He also meets a woman named Pearl who informs Jonah that she is the soul of the city. Pearl serves almost as an ex deus machina and is one of the more unbelievable aspects of the story.
The book painfully creeps out of the gate, and rarely has any story momentum … something few Koontz books can be accused of. As much as Koontz tries to get the reader emotionally involved with Jonah and his family, it never happens. Instead, a sense of annoyance replaces any sense of anticipation. And, then … Koontz commits an error that, to me, ran the entire book completely off the tracks.
The story takes place during the 1960s, and Jonah becomes friends with a Japanese-American man, Mr. Yashioka, who lives in his apartment building and spent several years in a WWII interment camp. In a conversation with Jonah Mr. Yashioka uses the phrase “slam dunk.” He even goes so far as associating it with basketball. And it stopped me cold. The story was set in the late 1960s when dunking was not allowed in basketball. The phrase “slam dunk” was made popular by Los Angeles Lakers’ announcer Chick Hearn in the 1970s.
I read the rest of the book with declining interest from that point onward. Unlike most Koontz books, The City has little tension, narrative drive or suspense. Go back and read classic Koontz novels like Strangers, or Watchers.