Saturday, January 12, 2013

False Memory, pp 544-598

When we last left our heroes, they had defeated the bad guys’ attempt to kill them in Santa Fe and were headed back to California.  Our villain, in the meantime, had apparently killed Skeet and his companion, but was seen by the paranoid but un-brainwashed (and unnamed) Keanuphobe, and was struggling to figure out how to control her until he had his mind control formula in place.

Much to Ahriman’s surprise, Dusty and Martie show up for their Friday appointment and confront him.  Ahriman says their trigger names and recites their enabling haikus to establish control, or at least the appearance of control.  With them under the appearance of his control, he orders them to go to Malibu to the home of Dusty’s mother, step-father and half-brother and kill them in spectacular fashion.  He dropped his first hint that Dusty, Martie and Skeet mean more to him than just another set of playthings when he shot Skeet and said, “Your mother’s a whore, your father’s a fraud, and your step- father ‘s got pig shit for brains.”  He now makes it abundantly clear that he hates Dusty’s family with a passion, calling Dusty’s step-father, Derek Lampton a “greedy, grasping, self-aggrandizing little shit,” a “reeking pisspot,” and a “suppurating pimple on the ass of humanity.”  He is in the process of describing how to kill and dismember them when he notices that their eyes are not making REM movements as they eyes of people under his control usually do.  And then he discovers that they are not under his control, and that he is unable to re-establish control.  At first he is shaken, but he manages to re-establish dominance by telling them he has burned their house down (with enough details to leave no doubt it is true) and that he shot and killed Skeet and Fig.  But he does not dare do anything so open as kill them in his own office, so he sends them away.  Then he calls the mysterious person under his control and sends him out to commit the crime instead.

Dusty and Martie head to Dusty's family's house to see why Ahriman hates them so much.  What follows is painful, really, the most unpleasant part of the book.  Dusty's mother is named Claudette.  Her husband (number four) is Derek Lampton, a psychologist, and they have a son, Derek Junior.  They both come across as grotesque caricatures of a pointed-headed professor by someone who really, REALLY hates pointy-headed professors.  They are not as evil as Ahriman, but only minimally more believable.  Although Dusty and Skeet complain a great deal about Derek Lampton, Claudette is the really annoying one.  She nags Dusty about having so un-serious a name, says that his classes in manners and deportment all went to waste, and that he could understand [whatever] if only he had taken an elementary college course in logic.  When Skeet and Fig turn out not to be dead after all because they were wearing Fig's kevlar body armor, instead of being alarmed that their nasty bruises, or relieved that they are all right, Claudette just corrects Skeet every time he says "me and Fig" and tells him it should be "Fig and I."  And she says, "[T]he American public . . . is as lazy and as poorly educated as it is in need of sound psychological counseling."

Yes, I will grant you, sometimes I wanted to reach into the pages and strangle her.  But I refuse to do it because I don't want to give Dean Koontz the satisfaction.  If I reach into the pages and strangle her, Koontz will know that he manipulated me into hating her just as much as he wanted me to.  And I refuse to be manipulated.  Much as I would like to reach into the pages and strangle Claudette, I would even more like to reach through the pages and strangle Koontz for foisting such a straw figure on me.  I will give him credit for preparing us for them from the start.  We learned way back starting on page 49 that Claudette married a whole string of obnoxious pointy-headed college professors.  Naturally we had to meet them some time.  But somehow for all the buildup, this part just doesn't read like part of the story.  It reads like Koontz has some sort of anti-intellectual agenda he wants to foist off on his readers.  I resent him for foisting it on me.  If he wants to make an anti-intellectual argument, make it a inherent part of the novel and bring it out into the open.  What's more, while it is obvious that Koontz has an agenda here, I don't know him well enough to be quite sure what it is.  I have criticized Koontz before for creating the impression that he may be taking on the recovered memory movement and then not doing so.  On second thoughts, maybe it is just as well that he did not, or his novel might have been reduced to a mere propaganda vehicle and hardly a story at all.

Even more disturbing is Koontz' reaction when Claudette says that ideas are what are really important because ideas can transform society.  Martie points out, reasonably enough, that Lampton's latest psychology book is hardly the stuff that transforms society.  That would be fine, taken by itself, but Koontz goes on to show a scorn for ideas that I find most disturbing.  Dusty realizes that his mother has an almost pornographic fascination with ideas because they represent power to her.  And worse yet, when Ahriman's puppet comes after them with homicidal intent, Martie asks if they have a gun.  When told no, she says, "Then too bad you don't have a really lethal idea."  Does Koontz mean what he appears to mean?  He seems to be saying that ideas are of no value at all, only brute force really matters.  Is that the message any author wants to convey?  Novels, after all, are vehicles for conveying ideas as well as characters and stories. Why would any novelist want to convey a message of, ignore any ideas I may be trying to convey; only brute force matters?  Furthermore, even if a novelist does want to convey that odious message, one would expect him to convey it consistently throughout his novel.  Instead, Koontz shows no great interest in exalting brute force over ideas, but simply throws it in as a seemingly random comment in the middle of a strangely out of place anti-intellectual tirade.  I can only assume that Koontz shows a hostility toward ideas and fondness for brute force because pointy-headed intellectuals like ideas and oppose brute force.  The whole sequence is thoroughly distasteful and reads like something grafted onto the story to advance some sort of hidden agenda.

Be that as it may, the over-intellectualism of Dusty's family has apparently rubbed off on him.  He asks Lampton, "Derek, why would Mark Ahriman harbor such animosity toward you?"  It turns out that both are psychologists and both wrote books that came out about the same time, but Ahriman's sold much better.  Lampton has retaliated by writing hostile reviews and posting over 150 negative reviews on under false names and e-mail addresses.  We also find out somewhat later that Claudette had an affair with Ahriman, that he was the actual father of her Down's baby, that she blamed Ahriman and smothered their child in her crib, and that she considered smothering Skeet when he, too, proved to be defective.  All of this is interrupted when the mysterious stranger under Ahriman's control appears and turns out to be Susan's husband Eric, who was acting under Ahriman's control when he moved out and left his wife vulnerable to Ahriman's nocturnal visits.  He shows up, guns blazing and charges up the stairs towards them.  Dusty and Martie push furniture down the stairs to block his way, while shouting out name after name from The Manchurian Candidate until they reach the one that makes him go catatonic and say, "I'm listening."  Dusty runs down stairs, shouting "Ed Mavole" (the trigger name) every time Eric starts to come out of his trance.  Just as Dusty has disarmed Eric and is wondering what to do next, Derek, Jr. shoots and kills him with his crossbow.  A huge family quarrel ensues, with Dusty blaming Junior for killing a disarmed man (so much for Koontz worshiping brute force.  And good for him!), Junior's parents wanting to protect him from the police, and the whole affair with Ahriman and killing his baby coming up.

In the confusion, Skeet takes Eric's gun and sneaks off to kill Ahriman, trusting that he can get off on a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.  Dusty and Martie, upon finding out, go after Skeet, intended to stop him, but this time confident that if they kill Ahriman, their persecution will stop and the Bellon-Tockland Institute will not come after them.

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