I want to blame this tragedy on someone else. I’d like to say that someone required me to read this piece, that it was an onus placed upon me by some authority figure that I’m helpless to resist. But that is not the case. I can blame no one but myself. My father says I’m overly critical, and he’s probably right. I have a feeling that, no matter how hard I try, this won’t be a pleasant annotation.
A quick history: I read Odd Thomas earlier on the recommendation of my father. He said it was a good example of first person point of view and of voice. When I completed the book, I disagreed. I had a few complaints about the book, but still enjoyed it overall.
Like any good workshop, I’ll begin with what I liked about Odd Thomas—the characters. Many of the characters were fascinating and memorable. Their dialogue was natural and often engaging, though it often felt forced.
One of the drawbacks to Forever Odd was that the characters that I enjoyed in the first book didn’t last more than a chapter or two before the protagonist is pulled away into an isolated environment. And the protagonist, Odd Thomas, who many readers find engaging and whimsical (because he jokes about everything) for me, has a serious flaw in his “voice.” He’s a 21 year old short order cook, but seems to have this vast knowledge of trivial information that seems random and out of place. He’ll go on for pages about the history of bowling to say that something bad might happen at a bowling alley. And while his description is good, there are times where he’ll drag a situation out for multiple pages. The description is full and vivid and nice, but over-the-top. At some point, this intense description slows the pacing of the book and takes the reader out of the story, and I found myself wanting to skip pages at a time to just figure out what in the world happens. I shouldn’t have to wade this far into a detailed history of the evolution of the coyote to understand that Odd’s in trouble. Just get to the point already.
Forever Odd suffers from the same description problem, but doesn’t have the intriguing characters to carry it through. Of the three, this feels the least like an Odd Thomas book because his interaction with interesting characters (he himself is not that interesting to me) was gone. The villain was contrived, too easy, cliché. Her cryptic dialogue and flimsy motivation were laughable. The whole plot was beyond hard to believe, it was improbable, impractical, and far too easy. It took more than the willing suspension of disbelief to buy into it. It took a degree in ignorance.
A short summary of the plot: Odd Thomas’ best friend (who, until this novel, was never mentioned, and who has brittle bone disease) is kidnapped by an ultra-wealthy scary occult enthusiast sex-phone operator. She kidnaps the friend (who’s name I cannot remember) to lure Odd Thomas to her so he can show her dead people, which is the one thing she’s not been able to do in her study and pursuit of the occult. Too many coincidences.
Deus Ex Machina is the name of the game. The whole premise is unbelievable, but it gets worse. Odd is saved by a roaming panther who just happens to be at the bottom of a stairwell in a burnt-up casino at just the right time to eat the villain before she kills Odd in a horribly unspeakable way. Then, when running from one of the villain’s henchman, Odd apparently dies, and then magically reappears in Pico Mundo, his hometown, unscathed.
At the end of the book, I was left feeling like this was a sequel to appease the masses who enjoyed the first book, one Dean Koontz threw together at the last minute with no original thought process or plan. To say this book was a disappointment would be courteous.
For my part, I need to understand that compelling, interesting characters can keep a readers interest even if the story often drags. Plus, I need to know that if I get lazy, my readers (when and if I get them) will know. I’m thinking specifically of The Bargain again here. I rushed the ending, and I know it. But I felt I was flexible enough to follow the story and tried not to be too contrived, but I’m sure I was. On my revision, I’ll have an eye on just that.
This book was much better that its predecessor. Here, though Odd Thomas has moved to a monastery, and while he had no contact with the old characters I liked so much, there were new characters, unique characters. Plus, the setting was so different that the whole story, which wasn’t ground-breaking in its originality, felt fresh.
And while this story was nearly equally unbelievable (mad-scientist monk creates room that will turn his thoughts into living creatures/creations to destroy his disavowed mentally-challenged son, and all disabled children in the nearby nunnery), it felt more credible in terms of motivation. It makes sense that this mad-scientist type character has won numerous prizes and has vast monetary resources. Still unbelievable, but plausible at least.
While this book suffered from the same flaw in voice (the ultra-wise beyond his years 21 year old), long passages of drawn out pointless description, and the fact that everybody (and I mean everybody) loving the protagonist (which becomes tiring after a while—I found myself asking “Really? Everyone loves him? Why? Because he’s quasi-witty? Because he’s suffered? What is it about him that everyone loves? I never saw it.) they were fewer times that this proved to be distracting to the reader.
What does this mean for my writing? Characters can make a story—they can make a reader forgive a stories short-comings. Likewise, the protagonist must be one of those characters that the reader cares about. The other characters in the novel should feel about the protagonist the same way the reader does (ideally). I know that characters is often developed by other characters’ perception of that person, but there should be enough protagonist developed so that it seems reasonable for the other character’s to like them for that. When characters should distrust him, they don’t. This was distracting, and it is a pitfall I’ll try to avoid in my book (something I’ll keep an eye on in the revision process).