Wounded Heart, Wounded Soul

I am a late arrival to the works of Dean Koontz. His production stretches back to 1968, which means that I am decades behind his output. To say he is prolific is the type of cliché he would likely avoid using. I’ll say it, though, because playing catchup to someone who has an audit trail of  more than a gazillion published works is intimidating. (I’ll avoid writing “to say the least” because that too is an over-worked cliché that is unworthy of my subject).

The only reason I started reading anything of his is due to the insistence of a friend, whose good intentions have resulted in a manuscript curse. Me being me, once I find an author that I like my OCD kicks in and I must read everything the marketplace can supply. And with Amazon possessing the capability of supplying me (for a fee) every novel, novella, short story and essay Koontz has written, I have a long ways to go before I can draw even with him.

My entry point is the Odd Thomas series. And even there I am only at the beginning. Two titles completed thus far out of nine that I know of and three graphic novels in reserve means that me and Odd will be buddies for a while.

Part of the appeal of reading about Odd and his other worldly buddies is the novels’ California setting. Being a Southern California native myself, there is a certain wish fulfillment that takes place whenever I encounter a good story with an old home setting. Think Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Louis Lamour’s The Lonesome Gods, the last half of Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls and all the Kinsey Millhone stories by Sue Grafton.

The small community of Pico Mundo, where Odd lives is fictional, like his self, but not the Mojave Desert, where the town is located. I’ve been there in a long ago former life as a California free-spirit and can recall the sights, sounds, feel and smell of the terrain Koontz invokes with great clarity. So score one for the power of setting, especially as it befits the nature of the primary character and the mood of his haunted adventures.

Odd sees dead people. His relationship with them is compassionate at the core, even when they draw him into the kind of supernatural escapade that is life threatening for Odd and highly entertaining for those of us disinclined to put the book down until we’ve finished the last page. It’s in the second book of this series, entitled Forever Odd, where Koontz sets himself apart for other authors of popular mystery-themed fiction. It’s in the way he describes the relationship between Odd and the spirits, who desperately seek him out for consolation.

That I will touch them, embrace them, seems always to be a comfort for which they’re grateful. They embrace me in return. And touch my face. And kiss my hands.

You don’t have to be a ghost whisperer to identify with this statement. This is a caregiver’s experience, whether trained as a hospice worker or simply a family member thrust into an intimate relationship with the dying. Presence means everything, made all the more valuable by providing that last scintillating encounter with touch. This can be an uncomfortable challenge as the extremities grow cold, making the simple act of handholding a commitment defying our natural revulsion to death’s relentless demand to possess the last breath of a loved one’s sacred vitality. When sight dims, touch prevails. Where words fail, a caress transcends the need for communication.

Odd says of his spectral encounters, Sometimes it seems that to exit this world, they must go through my heart, leaving it scarred and sore.

Caregivers know the feeling. We have the exit wounds to prove it, both heart and soul.

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