Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Odd Journey of Faith

Forever Odd, the second installment in what Dean Koontz promises will be an ongoing epic, is one of his best stories to date. It chronicles the life of Odd Thomas, a short-order cook with extraordinary abilities who lives in the Southern California town of Pico Mundo on the edge of the Mojave Desert. As his name implies, Odd is not your usual cook—or usual human being, for that matter. He possesses an unusual gift: the ability to see the dead walking among us. These walking specters are drawn to him because of this gift. He can talk to them, but they can only respond through gestures, facial expressions and body language. Odd believes that they cling to this world in a state of limbo, stuck as if to a spider’s web, because of strong emotions—anger, sorrow, despair—that are always connected to their untimely death. He also believes that they cannot leave until some form of reconciliation occurs. It’s not a new concept in supernatural literature, this idea that the dead cannot leave due to the strength of emotions attached to their death. But Koontz uses this concept as a backdrop to develop some of his most vibrant and endearing characters.

The strength of Koontz’s storytelling usually centers on his unique ability to create interesting characters. Odd Thomas is supported and sometimes guided in his adventures by a supporting cast that includes Chief Wyatt Porter, Pico Mundo’s grizzled, veteran police chief; Terri Stambaugh, Odd’s boss at the grill who is a fast talking, die-hard Elvis Presley fan; P. Oswald Boone, an author and Odd’s best friend, who is also a four-hundred pound mystery novelist with a clairvoyant cat; and the ghost of The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley himself.

The story opens with Odd awakening to find the spirit of a man he knows well, Dr. Wilbur Jessup, standing beside his bed. He rises to investigate and discovers the doctor’s body bludgeoned to death and his son missing. The son is Danny, Odd’s close friend who suffers from ontogenesis imperfecta, a crippling brittle bone disease. He suspects that Danny has been kidnapped from his home, possibly by his birth father, who was recently released from prison. We are immediately drawn into the adventure as Odd sets off in pursuit of Danny’s kidnappers.

We find that Odd’s special powers also stretch into other realms of the psychic. His “psychic magnetism” allows him to find people or unseen places by focusing on a mental image of them. He follows the psychic trail of Danny down into an underground, labyrinthine drainage system, and eventually emerges again far out in the desert. Standing on the edge of the desert, Odd places a call to Sheriff Porter, a father figure to Odd who possesses a firm but still uncertain belief in the young man’s extraordinary abilities. Odd has helped the sheriff solve cases before and found answers when none seemed evident using conventional police tactics. After Odd briefly updates the sheriff regarding the case, their conversation turns to the current mission in the desert. The following is a piece of this conversation recounted through Odd’s narrative:

Lying to him would be harder than lying to myself. “I’m being pulled, sir.”

“Pulled where?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m still on the move.”

“Where are you now?”

“I’d rather not say, sir.”

“You're not gonna Lone Ranger this,” he worried.

“If that seems best.”

“No Tonto, no Silver – that’s not smart. Use your head, son.”

“Sometimes you’ve got to trust your heart.”

“No point in me arguing with you, is there?”

When events or timing lead us down to the heart-and-soul life, I believe that we are all faced with this choice at some time during our quest for eternal truth. We find ourselves compelled to follow some abstract feeling or uncertain belief out into the desert of our own souls, and we can only go there alone. We cannot always explain, even to those closest to us, why we believe so firmly that we must go. I think it is in this place and only here that we find God. But it isn’t an easy choice, and nothing at the time seems concrete, not even our own thoughts.

Whether it is Koontz’s intention or not, the character of Odd Thomas is on a constant faith journey. He is forever drawn away from the potential of a comfortable life and asked to follow spirits and feelings toward an unknown end. He simply must take a leap and follow his heart. The life of a Christian is not easy, and rarely do we have any or all of the answers to the questions of our future. We simply must trust in God and the belief that his plan at the end of our desert-journey is worth the risk of following such uncertainty. At his core, Odd has an unshakable faith in what he is called to do. This latest story by Dean Koontz, the mass-market, supernatural thriller king, deeply inspired my own often-shakable faith.

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