The City by Dean Koontz was a disappointing book from one of my favorite writers. Yes, it was entertaining. Yes, it had good characters and it was beautifully written. But it lacked any semblance of the supernatural with the exception of Miss Pearl, a character I’ll get to in a minute (spoiler alert!).
The City follows young Jonah, a promising African American musical prodigy, in the early 1960s. Jonah’s father abandons the family and takes up with their upstairs neighbor in the apartment complex where he and his mother live. Jonah receives a strange visit from Miss Pearl, who gives him a heart-shaped pendant that contains a feather. He has visions of teenager strangling his own father and of a cruel woman being strangled.
Aside from these visions and the apparition of Miss Pearl, there’s zero horror, zero suspense in this novel. Jonah basically thwarts a plot from a bunch of 60s style radicals. He suffers. His mother overcomes hardship. Yawn.
Honestly, I think the biggest problem with this book wasn’t just the lack of horror or suspense. It was the character of Jonah himself. He was just too perfect. He’s polite to his elders, he’s adoringly cute, he’s a piano prodigy, he loves his grandfather. The story is told from Jonah’s point of view as a flashback from his adult perspective, and perhaps that’s what makes it a little boring. It’s an adult relating a tale that happened to a child, and there’s just very little of interest in this all-too perfect kid. I mean honestly, couldn’t he do one little thing bad? Be bad at something, anything? Have a hang up, be afraid, sass his mother, anything?
He just rings too good to be true. So does his entire family. His mother is a singer with an opera-worthy voice who can’t seem to get gigs except at crappy cafes. His grandfather, another musical prodigy, struggles to play gigs at the local department store. Yet everyone is kind, faithful, family focused and loving to all.
The same goes for the bad guys, but in the opposite direction. The female villain is so one-dimensional you get very little sense of who she is or why she is so nasty and cruel. She’s almost a caricature of a villain flashing a switchblade knife and sneaking in and out of locked doors. The same goes for Jonah’s dad – a caricature of the abandoning father.
What holds the narrative together is Koontz’s amazing gift for language. His writing sings with a poetry and power few authors command, so I forgave him for most of these faults and plowed through the remaining narrative pages to find out what happened. And in the end, I was dreadfully disappointed.
Spoiler Alert –
What gives with the character of Miss Pearl? That was another confusing element to the story. She introduces herself to the young Jonah as the personification of the city itself, the embodiment of their souls and stories. That’s a really fascinating concept. Then at the end it’s revealed that she is what – God? The Virgin Mary wearing a Chanel suit and disguised as a beautiful African American woman? Confusing, and unnecessary to drag that into the story…I wish he’d left her as the personification of the City, the souls of all who dwell in its concrete canyons rolled into one beautiful, intriguing woman.
Well, that’s my review of The City. I borrowed my copy from the public library. The link above will take you to my Amazon affiliate link. If you purchase any products through this link, I receive a small commission, which does not affect your price. Thank you.