i read, therefore i write

those who can't write, review

77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz novels are always hit or miss with me.  Sometimes he writes a story that is so well thought-out, I am moved to tears.  Other times, he makes me want to burn down a bookstore. More times than not though, he writes a blandly enjoyable novel that can eat up a few hours of my down time.

77 Shadow Street, Dean Koontz’s 2011 horror novel, is finally able to capture at least a thimble-sized amount of the magic Koontz always seems to be trying desperately to syphon from Stephen King.  He tells a story with blurry images of The Shining creeping around its edges, but tactfully manages to make it seem like more of an homage than a rip-off.

Koontz’s story is set in a luxury building divided into condominiums for the wealthy, the notorious, and the reclusive.  The condos were converted from The Pendleton, a mansion built in the 1800s with a history of violence and mystery. 

Koontz has always been fond of putting people with disabilities in his stories as a way of setting the scene for future conflict and calamity, and 77 Shadow Street doesn’t disappoint.  He has a rainbow of disabled characters, a.k.a. plot devices.  Some have physical or mental maladies, and even a few emotionally and socially crippled tenants reside in the renovated Pendleton on Shadow Hill.

Tenants go about their daily routine; some write songs or computer code, while others are trying to hide from their past trauma.  The man in apartment 3-F spends his working hours as a hit man. These characters live out their separate lives next to each other but remain strangers, all the while the building that houses them slowly becomes sentient…and I think it might be from the future, or maybe just that one guy was from the future, and I think he was also from the past and present. I think.

Truthfully, maybe the book wasn’t quite that confusing, but it was very close.  There were more than a few passages I had to reread to understand the outcome of something that had just taken place.

But the one thing 77 Shadow Street has going for it is action.  The plot is terrible and the characters and their reactions are predictable and stale, but this book freaked me out several times.  And Koontz pulled no punches when killing off characters.  By the last quarter of the book, I thought it was possible not one character would be left alive. 

Dean Koontz wrote 77 Shadow Street as a terrifying place to live.  It’s just too bad the tenants were so boring.

Lost in Infinity by Travis Besecker

On average, how much would you say you sleep?  Have you ever really thought about it?  If you suffer from chronic insomnia like Travis Besecker, you have. 

On your sleepless nights, what keeps you awake?  Worries about money, or how you could have handled a previous interaction better?  Is it ever a fear of infinity, and the vast nothingness that surrounds us and looks down from the night sky?  If you suffer from apeirophobia like Travis Besecker, it is.

Besecker’s new novel, Lost in Infinity is a chronicle of his life-long battle with insomnia and the ugly, and often times, dangerous side effects that can occur due to extreme sleep deprivation.  He tells his story of pain, frustration, and fear of the unknown.  His tale is sad, funny, extremely moving, and also, at times, deeply unsettling.  Besecker is a person that almost everyone can relate to, in one way or another, which makes his story all the more powerful.

Lost in Infinity follows Travis Besecker on a sometimes sporadic timeline from early childhood to the present as he deals with his inability to “sleep like a normal kid,” and his boundless fear. Besecker’s journey takes us to him as a small boy, sitting in the visiting area of a mental institution reminiscent of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and to the night more than 20 years in the future, when he slams his car into a guardrail after falling asleep at the wheel.  He tells of his well-meaning parents who tried to help a child they loved but didn’t understand.  He explains his constant need to be involved in numerous projects and his fight to succeed at everything he does as an attempt to silence the Shadow Man.

I received and read Lost in Infinity in the same day.  That was in part due to the fact that I had agreed to write this review when I was finished with the novel; I don’t like to keep people waiting.  But mostly, it was due to the fact that I absolutely couldn’t put the book down. 

I don’t want to give away the story of Besecker’s trials but I will give my reaction to it: 

My arms were covered in goose bumps for the duration of the first two chapters, a feeling I described as finding Besecker “eerily relatable.”  There were so many ways in which I felt a kinship to this person I was reading about.  My mind raced with every passing page and my heart pounded with emotion.  There was more than one moment where I wanted to hug this scared and frustrated little boy.  Two-thirds of the way into Besecker’s work, I realized there were probably 20 different ways his story could end, and no matter what path the novel took, I knew it would be the right one.  I don’t think I have ever been so confident of a novel’s genuine goodness since I began reading them at age 7.  Lost in Infinity is a book that I will be returning to for another read many, many more times to come.