Koontz’s magnum opus swells to over 600 extra-deep pages and takes big chances but remains a staunch page-turner throughout.
The story weaves three novels into one fat strand and sustains the same rich melodrama as his darkly concentrated Intensity (1996) while taking a sentimental tack. Koontz aims to round out his characters beyond the suspense genre, sacrificing many trees to that worthy goal without ever putting a living person on the page, only Dickensian stereotypes at the mercy of Koontz’s plotting. Or a more apt analogy might be quantum mechanics, where the subatomic acts in its own sweetly unforeseeable way with a bodilessness that may suggest parallel worlds. The atomic particles of Koontz’s large cast gather into a force field we watch from the corner of our eye without disturbing the particles observed. Agnes Lampion, known as the Pie Lady for her daily gift of pies to the needy, loses her husband when their car is sideswiped as he takes her to the hospital to deliver her first child, Bartholomew. She dies on the delivery table, then returns from the dead. A mere 250 pages later, Barty becomes the novel’s central character, a child prodigy and math genius who at age three has the ability to walk in other worlds only he can see; he even stays dry in the rain. Out to kill Barty is Junior Cain, now a multimillionaire after pushing his pregnant wife from a fire tower. Junior once raped 15-year-old Seraphim White, daughter of a black minister, who also died in childbirth with a paranormal message on her lips. Her baby, Angel, is like Barty: gifted with the sight of other worlds. Junior speaks Barty’s name in his sleep and awakes knowing he must eliminate the boy to cover up his own many guilts. How does he know? Subatomically!
Is Koontz, like Stephen King, being sucked toward the mainstream novel? Not a smart move, though this one fumbles for the heartstrings.