Koontz (Innocence, 2013, etc.) genre-bends the metaphysical into a coming-of-age story, one measuring love’s parameters.
Honoring his racial and musical heritage, young Jonah bears seven middle names in homage to the African-American greats of swing music. He's the son of Sylvia Bledsoe Kirk, a singer gifted enough to have won scholarships, and Tilton Kirk, a rogue smooth enough to get Sylvia pregnant before she could get to college.There’s an off-again, on-again marriage, Tilton fantasizing about celebrity chef-dom and Sylvia working at Woolworths and singing in nightclubs. The most constant presence in Jonah’s life is grandfather Teddy Bledsoe, "a piano man," a big band veteran now working as a lounge pianist. The Beatles rock radio and records, but preteen Jonah is entranced with big band music, and he’s a gifted pianist. The narrative covers the '60s shake-ups, including opposition to the Vietnam War. Tilton’s skirt-chasing ensnares him in a bomb plot by two psychopaths posing as political agitators, putting Jonah and Sylvia in great danger. Koontz writes Sylvia and Teddy as too good to be true, and Jonah’s too-wise childhood perspective seems overly influenced by Jonah-the-adult’s narration. There are, nevertheless, affecting supporting characters, like the reclusive Mr. Yoshioka, once a Manzanar internee. The cardboard-cutout antagonists are not fully formed, but Koontz’s exploration of the Bledsoes' familial bond gives the story heart. The action is predictable and less interesting than Koontz’s discourses on swing music and his allusions to art, race and social mores. Koontz displays his usual gift for phrase-making—"moments when buildings and bridges, all of it, seemed like an illusion projected on a screen of rain." The setting is New York City, but the great metropolis plays no real part in the narrative other than its metaphysical manifestation in the form of "Miss Pearl," an amorphous character appearing at critical junctures like Cinderella’s fairy godmother.
Koontz offers a passable modern fairy tale about good and evil, love and loyalty.