The City

End Date:  September 27

Author:  Dean Koontz

Published:  2014

Genre:  Suspense

Pages:  398 (hardcover)

Selected By:  The Divine Ms. Em

Average Score:  Scoring No Like Book

“Here is the riveting, soul-stirring story of Jonah Kirk, son of an exceptional singer, grandson of a formidable ‘piano man,’ a musical prodigy beginning to explore his own gifts when he crosses a group of extremely dangerous people, with shattering consequences.  Set in a more innocent time not so long ago, The City encompasses a lifetime but unfolds over three extraordinary, heart-racing years of tribulation and triumph, in which Jonah first grasps the electrifying power of music and art, of enduring friendship, of everyday heroes.  

“The unforgettable saga of a young man coming of age within a remarkable family, and a shimmering portrait of the world that shaped him, The City is a novel that speaks to everyone, a dazzling realization of the evergreen dreams we all share.  Brilliantly illumined by magic dark and light, it’s a place where enchantment and malice entwine, courage and honor are found in the most unexpected quarters, and the way forward lies buried deep inside the heart.” – from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

The Divine Ms. Em:  Scoring No Like Book

I am a huge fan of Dean Koontz, and the main thing I just have to say is that I am surprised that The City was written by the same author who brought us By the Light of the Moon and the Odd Thomas series.

I also find myself repeatedly apologizing for this selection.  The other Ladies reassured me that this happens, and they tell me that the point of Gigglemug is to give honest reviews on books none of us have ever read before… but I still feel somehow responsible for what I view as a waste of everyone’s time.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are so many brilliant books out there, so many that we’ll never be able to read them all, and it seems a shame to waste so much time reading one that you don’t like.  So.  Once more, I’m sorry, Ladies.  Truly, truly sorry.  And I promise I won’t apologize for it again.

I had a hard time even discussing this novel during our meeting; the whole thing was, by and large, completely forgettable, so much so that, though I finished the whole book quite recently, I still can’t even recall all of the characters’ names with perfect clarity or really even tell you what the point of this whole rambling tale actually was.  Even when I celebrated having gotten through 99% of the story, when I rushed to reach that blessed blank page that indicates you’ve finished your Kindle selection, it just kept going, there were more words, more words, and then…

Sweet relief, it was over!

But what actually happened in The City?  Nothing.  Well, okay, to be fair, there was this kid, and he was really great at music, his mother loved him a lot, his father – not so much, his grandfather and neighbor were his role models, he had a friend, some bad things happened, his friend got messed up over it, he got messed up in a different way because of it, and yet he still grew up to be a rational and well-adjusted adult.  The end.

Oh, and we’re all interconnected.

The end.

I’m so dismayed that this was BillMo’s first Dean Koontz novel, and I cannot stress enough that this should in no way be taken as a Koontz standard: he has so many wonderful novels to choose from, so many amazing, beautiful, intense novels, and this is no example at all of his technique and skill.  During our Gigglemug meeting, those of us familiar with Koontz’s other literary works repeatedly made mention of the fact that this lacked everything about Koontz that we loved and was so different from his other works that we simply refused to believe he’d had anything to do with it at all.

I didn’t mind Jonah’s precociousness, but I didn’t care for the rambling sort of way “he” told this story.  I do understand this was supposed to have an autobiographical feel to it, but even the introduction seemed somehow out of place, and the constant mention of events which occurred almost half-a-century ago, musicians whose heydays were almost eighty years ago, and artists I care nothing about just served to drag this whole story down.  I really think it may have been more entertaining and interesting if all of the filler had been tossed, and the whole 400-page slog had been condensed into a short story or even a piece of flash fiction.

The antagonists – Fiona, Lucas, and Mr. Smaller – were rather dull when compared to other nasty creations of Koontz’s, such as Junior Kane, Mr. Vess, Vassago, and Moongirl.  Their “beef” with the world is never truly explained, and the only really entertaining contribution they made was by having their crime spree come to an end in the way that it did.  Like BillMo, I was never really sure what Tilton’s purpose in the conspiracy club actually was; he was guilty of being a piss-poor excuse for a husband and a neglectful, overly-possessive excuse for a father – but I really don’t think he deserved to be lumped in with the paranoid violence-mongers who made up the kaboom club.

Miss Pearl herself was something I couldn’t discuss at our meeting without rolling my eyes; I’m sure Koontz was using her as a metaphor, as an object for us to focus on so that he could make a profound statement… but in the end, I’m not buying it.  And the whole thing about the purse… I mean… honestly.  It was just laughable.

The only really likeable thing about The City is Mr. Yoshioka.  The grace and calm he exhibits is a wonderful contrast to the madness of the novel’s would-be bad guys, and his determination to make sense of and resolve the issues presented to him and Jonah were the only sense of progression I felt while reading this book.  With Mr. Yoshioka, we really got a hint of the Koontz we know and love… but that lone character wasn’t enough to salvage the 400 pages of nothingness that made up this novel.

I think that Koontz was trying to make a profound statement about life with The City.  In fact, I’m sure that is what he was going for.  But he threw so much unnecessary filler at us that he completely missed his mark and it all ended up meaning nothing, leaving his profound final statement to make as deep an impression upon my psyche as a complimentary fortune cookie.  Except I didn’t get any lucky numbers, so I feel a little robbed all in all.

And I lied.  I’m totally apologizing again.  I’m sorry for this one, Ladies!

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Mr. Yoshioka.

Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Lady Esbe: Scoring It Was OK Book

Where the last book was my favorite thus far; this is running a close second to my least favorite. I hope that my review does not read in the same manner as this novel-  long, boring and seemingly without a point.   I have always been a fan of Dean Koontz, but I have not read him in years and I’m hoping that this rambling and extremely arduous read is not representative of his state of writing these days.  The incessant name dropping of various musical artists from the early to mid-twentieth century and then that of the various artists from times before, I felt like I was covered in art vomit.  If his intent was to create a curiosity in those artists to try out some of their works, I can assure you, this book did the exact opposite.

Our main narrator is seemingly to be creating an oral history of a period of no more than two years, granted two very formative and influential years of his life.  Jonah takes us back to the period between ages 8 to 10 during a time of much upheaval and strife in the world from protesting Vietnam, to the Civil Rights Movement.  I imagine that his account is often how we do tell stories with little offshoots, meandering about, then coming back to a point and hopefully, making out point.  Initially, this could be considered charming.  However, forty chapters in, I was ready to hurt someone.  There was often the tease that something big was going to happen, but it was most annoying that it did not occur until the last one hundred pages of a three hundred and ninety-eight page book!  Even then, nothing was overly shocking, I was not emotionally charged to know if Jonah’s no account father, Tilton would be his downfall or show up in the end.  In addition, I was still a bit annoyed as to the tying together of our dysfunctional band of villains was never truly explained beyond Fiona Cassidy and Lucas Drackman.

Jonah is a likeable character.  Even at a young age he is introspective and attempts to do the right thing. He willing takes the advice of his elders that he looks up to, such as his Grandpa Teddy, mother, Mr. Yoshioka and Ms. Pearl.  Even when he is unsure of how to proceed, I don’t find myself being annoyed with him and think that his reactions are surely reasonable for someone of his age.  I found his observations of others to be astute and more observant than many people at his age at any time period.  I enjoyed that he could appreciate art, could enjoy the wonders of yesteryear, but it can also be said that he was wiser than his years.

Mr. Yoshioka is the only character that I truly worried about during the course of the novel.  We knew that Jonah would survive, as he is writing a memoire.  I felt that surely because Mr. Yoshioka was unassuming, kind, observant, wise, resourceful and willing to look out for Jonah, that surely he was destined to die in a horrible manner at the hands of the narrative’s villains.  I was pleased that it was not by the hands of these, villains, but he survives the ordeal, remaining an integral part of Jonah’s life years later.  In addition, while he could have been more than bitter to have been interred into a Detention camp during World War II, he was able to maintain his desire to see the beauty in the world and open his heart to others.  Honestly, I half expected him to wind up with Jonah’s mother.

I did find myself admiring the wise Grandpa Teddy and his fortitude in dealing with a wayward son-in-law without throwing it into his daughter’s face.  He even managed to guide Jonah to respect, but be wary of Tilton.  I found his character to be the other fatherly figure to Jonah (along with Mr. Yoshioka).  His protective, kind and wise nature kept me hoping that Grandpa Teddy would continue to thrive throughout the novel, despite his loss of Anita.

Unfortunately, I did not feel that Jonah’s mother added very much to the story.  She was kind, upstanding and hardworking with a flair for having fun with her son.  However, her shining moment in the novel was when she had a semi-confrontation with Tilton upon discovering his infidelity.  I liked how she handled herself even when I thought she was mostly naïve and just sunshine throughout.

As for other women in the novel, I enjoyed Mrs. Nozawa the most.  She was not only resourceful, but effective where others were not in the novel, in her investigation of Lucas Drackman.  She managed to move from one institution to another with savvy and wisdom that we don’t see in other women in the novel.  She is kind, but by no means a dupe.  Mrs. Lorenzo was surely the motherly type, but didn’t add very much to the story other than being another caregiver to Jonah.  This leaves us with Pearl, who is the self-proclaimed soul of the city.  She is the incarnation of the inhabitants of New York and offers Jonah a way to learn his craft as a pianist (the city will always provide) and then she also provides him with guidance and hope that he doesn’t have to fear his future or the outcome of his confrontation with Drackman, Cassidy and Tilton.

Now, the villains in the novel are truly heinous in their own way.  Tilton, Jonah’s father, is the average low life philanderer who doesn’t want to accept his responsibility, floating in and out of people’s (Jonah and his mother) lives.  He is the least innocuous, but possibly just as harmful as anyone who would truly set out to hurt Jonah.  This leads us to his cohort, Lucas Drackman who is a mastermind of sorts, a hitman or just plain murderer for various reasons, that all come down to selfishness and profit.  We never get a reason for his murder of his parents, and the barest of explanation of reciprocity for other murders he commits.  Best case scenario is he’s a sociopath that does what he does for giggles.  Finally, the only other villain worthy of mentioning is Fiona Cassidy.  She’s a sinister, volatile, sadistic and possibly racist woman.  Of the villains, the reader has the most interaction with her and she is the only reason you feel that Jonah, Mr. Yoshioka and Jonah’s family are truly in danger.  The dynamics of this consortium makes no sense and isn’t explained to my satisfaction.

In short, this is not the Dean Koontz book that I would recommend to a neophyte to his work.  There are much more gripping, cohesive and intriguing books out there by him.  I would suggest you go back over the years and pick some of his earlier work.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Either Mrs. Nozawa or Mr. Yoshioka.

Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring No Like Book

Caveat:  Elle did not finish this selection.

This was my least favorite book so far, and I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did something that goes against my highly OCD nature: I left this book unfinished and have no intention of picking it up again.  In fact, halfway through the month, when my Kindle mocked my efforts by reminding me that I was only at 40% completion, I argued with myself that I was making a valiant effort and that this thing simply had to be 600 pages long; I checked Amazon, only to find that the hardcovers average only around 400 pages total.  My heart sank, dragging my resolve down with it, and no, nay, nein, I didn’t finish it.  I got to a whopping 62% before I made my apologies to Ms. Em and deleted that sucker off my reader.  Because I didn’t finish it, I can’t, for the sake of fairness, bring myself to give it no teacups (i.e., say I hated it), but it’s certainly not something I’d recommend.

I have read quite a few Dean Koontz books in the past, and some of his novels rank among my favorites for their genre: Intensity, Velocity, The Face, From the Corner of His Eye, The Husband, and Odd Thomas, just to name a few.  I mention those other novels only to stress that, as Esbe and Em stated, this book is nothing like those prior works; my biggest regret here is that BillMo has never read Koontz, and I hate that this had to be her first experience with his work.  Koontz is typically such a brilliant author with such a great knack for mixing raw emotions like love, sorrow, and pure terror with a beautiful and intense manipulation of words and imagery, but this novel just doesn’t do him justice.  In fact, when Em initially expressed concern about her selection for the month, I tried to reassure her by saying, “Well, if nothing else, at least it will be well-written!”

“I do not make a great noise as I pass through the years.  I do not allow myself curiosity about women… like Miss Eve Adams.  Head down.  Head down.  I do not wish to shine.  I prefer shadows, quiet, periods of solitude.  I do not wish to be noticed.  If one is all but invisible to others, one cannot be envied, inspire anger or suspicion.”

Again, I find myself once more having to apologize to Ms. Em.  Not only did I not finish her selection, but I lied to her from the beginning.

This was decidedly not an intense, suspenseful, or even entertaining read, nor was it particularly well-written.  This is not to say that it was poorly written, I don’t believe Koontz could truly write poorly, but he came very close with The City: it meandered and shuffled along with no real pace, there was no discernible plot for at least the 62% that I managed to complete, it had far more promises of “things to come” than necessary for so boring a novel, and the narrator had a tendency to ramble and jump from moment to moment (for example, a large chunk of the first few chapters is dedicated to the wonderful Grandpa Teddy… and then, abruptly, he disappears, not to be mentioned again until halfway through the novel, at which point he is relegated to a voiceless sideline, constantly there but never truly appearing until, as I’m given to understand by Em and Esbe, near the end).  I repeatedly likened this style of storytelling to being accosted by an elderly stranger who proceeds to tell you random snippets of his life in no particular order and with no concern for the fact that you know none of the people to whom he constantly refers, and all you can do is sit there, smiling and nodding and screaming silently in your own head.  During our book-club meeting, the three of us who were already familiar with Koontz’s works each mentioned that we had, at different points during reading, come to the same conclusion: that he must have had a ghost writer of some sort – it was just that obviously un-Koontzlike a novel.  You will see occasional snippets of prose that remind you of the Koontz of Yore, beautiful bits of imagery that border on the poetic… but they’re surrounded by so much detritus that it turns them into clunky, dramatic additions to an otherwise lukewarm, murky tale.  I do believe Em said it best when she mentioned halfway through September that it would have made a much more fluent and entertaining story if it had been a short-story rather than a novel.

Jonah, as BillMo pointed out during our meeting, sounded rather precocious and far more insightful than any real child of his age, but I took a different stance on that: I think these insights were being made by the narrator, the adult Jonah, and weren’t necessarily things he knew or understood at the times they occurred.  As with the other Ladies, I had a real problem with the laundry lists of musicians, artists, and events of the time; unlike the other Ladies, I am a fan of the music genres for which Jonah repeatedly provides examples, but even I lost interest with the constant name-dropping.  I was also irritated by the way so many chapters were full of nothing-much-going-on, and then they ended with, “But that wasn’t the worst!  The worst was still to come!”  It seemed very 1930s-radio-show of Koontz: “And check in with us next week folks, when we see how Little Orphan Annie gets out of this pickle!  And remember to drink your Ovaltine and get your super-secret decoder rings!”

“After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with a minimum of suffering.  And one form of heroism, about which few films will ever be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.”

I only met a few of the Japanese characters who made up Mr. Yoshioka’s network, but I will say Mr. Yoshioka himself proved to be, for me, the one true saving grace of this novel.  Much of Koontz’s beautiful prose was reserved for this character alone (both of the quotes I’ve put in my review were his), and I loved that Koontz created these characters as reminders of that shady part of our country’s past that so many Americans (and so many American textbooks) like to omit and pretend didn’t happen.  What I also loved was that this collection of characters stood in stark contrast to the antagonists – Fiona Cassidy and Lucas Drachman (I may have spelled his name wrong).  Our two true baddies were raised in privileged upper middle-class households, and their violence is a result of their own greed, madness, bloodlust, and senses of entitlement – not to mention that their Throw-Momma-from-the-Train method of beginning their lives of crime was decidedly anticlimactic; Mr. Yoshioka and his fellow Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from their homes and shoved into “internment” camps (the word Americans like to use to avoid admitting these were concentration camps), most of them lost their homes and livelihoods (and, in some cases, friends and relatives), but, rather than turning to violence, they chose the path of forgiveness and strove to quietly and calmly regain as much of their lives as they could over the following decades.  As I told Esbe: if anyone had a real reason to cook up bombs in apartment 6-C, it was Mr. Yoshioka.  But he didn’t.  And I loved him for it.

My last issue was with Miss Pearl.  I’ve read a couple of Koontz’s books in the past that turned a bit more preachy than I like, with heavy emphasis on grace and god and heaven.  So, when Miss Pearl arrived, I quickly decided she must have been Jonah’s guardian angel – and that made sense to me.  I was prepared for that, and told myself that perhaps wee Jonah’s soul was pure, perhaps he was just such a good kid with such a bright future that his little angel decided to help him out, give him a shove in the right direction… but from what I’ve heard about how this whole thing ended, I’ve got to say, it’s almost laughably ridiculous.  From what I gathered from Em and Esbe, Miss Pearl’s purse was the red pill into the Matrix and Pearl herself was the Oracle – but without any of the profound “there is no spoon” moments to really knock that philosophy home.

In the end, I did, as I said, delete it from my Kindle and have no intention of downloading it again.  But it may serve some purpose in the future, if the court system ever needs evidence for Mr. Koontz’s competency hearing.  🙂

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  I wish I could say Mr. Yoshioka, but, as with Tom Imura, I just don’t think I’m that Zen or that noble of character.  From what I read, I identified quite well with Malcolm, though I did not read of his character as an adult; as a child, his humor and sarcasm in the face of adversity, strife, and sorrow were character traits I can personally appreciate and honestly say are “armor” with which I can relate.

Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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BillMo:  Scoring It Was OK Book

Caveat:  BillMo did not finish this selection.

Like Elle Tea, I struggled for as long as I could, but I had to call it quits at 40%; I just couldn’t do it.  I tried – I even told myself this past Sunday that I would read every night…

But I just couldn’t do it.

First, I’ve made it no secret at all that I’m not into memoirs, and this book reads just like one – only one which is really rambling, shambling, and disjointed.

Second, the prologue threw me off – it was all over the place, and the first few chapters emphasized characters who then disappeared and did not reappear again (I’m told they showed up after I stopped reading, but really, why mention them at all if they’re not going to become relevant for another two-hundred pages?!).

And third, I had a real issue with our hero and narrator, Jonah.  I can’t recall now whether he’s supposed to be ten or twelve, but regardless, he sounds decades older.  He seems kind on the surface, and supporting characters (and the adult Jonah telling this tale) make constant references to what a great kid he is… but he spends a majority of this novel manipulating and lying to his hard-working and extremely supportive mother – and yes, omitting details that you know will change someone else’s opinion of you is still lying.  He repays his relatives’ sacrifices for his sake with more lies, and he goes behind their backs, taking unnecessary risks and putting all of them in jeopardy – and then, to “protect” them and retain their good opinion, he simply fails to mention the dangers he has put them in and instead decides to tackle it himself.  Really?  You’re ten!  And from what Em and Esbe told us of the ending, it seems like his brilliant plan worked smashingly (sarcasm) for everyone.

I can’t speak much on Fiona Cassidy, having just become acquainted with her at the point that I stopped reading, nor can I say much about the other antagonist, Lucas Drackman.  I can say that Tilton was a bit of a mystery; it was never clear to me how he was involved in any of the conspiracies, and I wasn’t entirely sure, despite Jonah’s continued insistence that his father was a bad man, if his father was guilty of anything other than neglect and adultery.

I never got to the point where Malcolm and his sister made their appearances, and Miss Pearl had only made herself known to Jonah one or two times when I stopped reading – but I did read just enough about Mr. Yoshioka to say that he was really the only thing I liked about this long, drawn-out tale.

Overall, I have to agree with the other Ladies – it was far too long, far too dull, and not a good first impression for me of Mr. Koontz.  I was told not to hold this book against him, but I’m sorry to say that I’m just really not impressed by this at all and don’t know if I’d read his other works.

With Which Character Did You Most Identify:  Mr. Yoshioka.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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