Jack's Reviews > Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz
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Apr 23, 08

Recommended to Jack by: a crazed clownish friend
Recommended for: only bored die-hard Koontz fans
Read in March, 2006

Dean Koontz reigns as the Henry Ford of novelists. Ford invented assembly line production, a way of mass-producing automobiles. Ford out produced other automakers and at the same time delivered a quality product. His Model T remains perhaps the most successful automobile ever made. Ford Motor Company occasionally made mistakes; the Edsel of the mid-1950s was its most glaring and infamous. Dean Koontz, like Ford has developed a method of cranking out novels at an amazing pace, over 60 in the span of about 30 years. Koontz too, has developed a wildly popular product: 22 New York Times #1 bestsellers, and dozens more making the bestseller list. He also makes mistakes, and Life Expectancy rattletraps along as Dean Koontz’s Edsel.

Koontz's standard assembly line formula calls for immediately tossing the reader into an improbable situation, usually involving something supernatural that stretches belief. As his story rolls down the line, Koontz, through strong, believable characters and meticulous research, constructs plausibility. Once his readers take the hook, Koontz leads them on a Ludlum-like roller coaster ride culminating in a rip-roaring climax. The finished product routinely sells, and Life Expectancy, another bestseller, illustrates that. But, despite Koontz’s success and book sales, Life satisfies like years-old McDonald’s fries lifted from the floorboard of an old Edsel.

True to formula, Koontz starts "Life" with a supernatural bang: “On the night that I was born, my paternal grandfather, Josef Tock, made ten predictions that shaped my life. Then he died in the very minute that my mother gave birth to me." It seems our narrating hero Jimmy Tock’s grandpa, while in his hospital death bed, predicts ten days of life threatening – life changing crises for about to be born Jimmy’s future, down to the very year, date and even day of the week they will arrive. Fittingly, this night of Jimmy’s birth and of his grandpa’s date-picking looms as an ominously dark and stormy one. Jimmy’s dad Rudy Tock dutifully writes down each dreaded date on a circus pass that Konrad Beezo, a manifestly insane circus clown that Rudy met in the waiting room, gave him. At the same time, Beezo is being informed by a doctor that his wife, a circus aerialist, has just died giving birth to a baby boy. Beezo, being insane and not too happy about the news, responds in a very unclown-like manner, gunning down everyone: doctors, nurses, patients, cops, but spares Rudy, his wife and their just-born little Jimmy because Rudy, after all, had become his waiting room buddy. Beezo then grabs his own newborn son and flees into the stormy night. Typical of Koontz’s formula, this opening sounds improbable and stretches belief. But we ain't seen nothin' yet.

At this point Koontz usually displays his skillful ability to build complex, likeable or hate-able characters that we really love or loathe. He dazzles us with special knowledge on the intricacies of his premise. Not so this time. Jimmy, now grown and following in chef dad’s footsteps, becomes an apprentice pastry chef. But more than fluffy crullers, Jimmy cooks comedy. If Comedy Central Network had a cooking show, Jimmy would be a natural. And apparently its genetic, because Mom, Dad and Grandma Rowena appear as stand-up-comic wannabes, which Koontz artificially wields, brandishing some witty dinner table conversations.

Along about the fifth prediction (the predictions tend to run together after awhile) 20 year-old Jimmy meets his wife-to-be, Lorrie. They bump into each other while being held hostage by an insane criminal who happens to be setting explosives in the old mine tunnels underneath their Colorado town. The criminal determines to destroy the entire town just after he robs the bank. This evil doer’s name? Why it’s Punchinello Beezo, the insane clown Konrad’s now grown son, who Jimmy snidely describes as “a graduate of Hannibal Lecter University, ready for a career in hospitality services as the new manager of the Bates motel." Punchinello’s accomplices are Honker and Crinkles…yes, two circus clowns. Lorrie, as coincidence would have it, also happens to be a natural born comedienne. Jimmy and Lorrie fall in love while entertaining Punchinello and his clown henchmen with impromptu comedy routines to relieve the tension as the villains set explosives. The evil triumvirate serves as a Bud Abbott for the lovebirds Lou Costello while they prepare to destroy the town.

Forget Koontz’s formula,these characters and this tale crossover into preposterous. "Life’s" premise and its characters ring patently false, functioning as mere vehicles to steer Koontz’s brand-new comedic engine. For Koontz fans, Life drifts so far from his natural course, we are left clutching for the wheel and scratching our heads. Is it camp, or is it crap? It’s almost as if Koontz has been waiting his whole life to write this book, as if Brando was crying out: “I coulda been a comedy writer! I coulda been a comedy writer, instead of a novelist, which is what I am.” Yet Koontz didn’t peddle however many millions of books by being a poor writer. In its way, Life entertains, and there exists strewn about, moments of excellent craft, like the smattering of lifeboats rowing away from the Titanic.

In some ironic sense, Jimmy Tock’s book-ending reflection on life’s meaning also mirrors Life’s epitaph. “By laughing, you do not use up your laughter, but increase your store of it” Jimmy preaches. And Koontz does provide a packed carload of clown’s humor, but too often we find ourselves laughing at the author and his buffoonish characters. Jimmy further instructs: “the more you expect from life, the more your expectations will be fulfilled.” We expected more from Koontz.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Tammi Collins If you were a spiritual person I think you wouldn't see it as an assembly line but rather a hand of God.


message 2: by Jack (last edited Jun 06, 2008 07:54PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jack Tammi,

I consider myself a spiritual person. I am an Elder in my church, which is not always a true indicator of spirituality but it often points that way. I beleive that every talent that we posess has the hand of God in it.

I have read at least thirty books of Mr. Koontz's. I wouldn't have done so if I didn't really love his work. Much of it has a spirituality to it that makes one think about a higher being watching over us.

He wrote a novel a number of years ago, I'm sorry I don't recall the title, about a mother with a young boy that some religious cult believes is the anti-Christ. The mother and a friend flee with the boy thwarting their attempts at killing her boy. Throughout the novel Koontz leaves the question open: is he or isn't he? Or might he instead be the second coming of Christ, or is he just a boy? Great writing, tense story.

I like Mr. Koontz as a writer. The assembly line comment was somewhat of a compliment; he is so prolific and successful - two plus novels a year and all of them bestsellers. I didn't like that particular novel and was just having some fun at Mr. Koontz multi-millionaire expense.


Tammi Collins Thank you for the comment back. I guess I was just... confused by your comment. Thanks for clearing it up. It is not often people take the time to "communicate" to a total stranger. I really appreciated it.


Mary Markis Jack-

Your review caught my eye, as my great- grandfather was Mr. Willoughby of Willoughby cars and comparible to the Ford model you spoke of.

I certainly can relate to the danger that authors can easily fall victim to, the repetitive plot similar to the formation of multitudes of the same product churning down an assembly line.

Hovewer, my personal experience with Koontz books is that, while he can hover close to that repetitive line, he has yet to leave me with that de javu feeling, no matter the similarities in plot you find. I believe to be a true test of this, as I have until recently, read only Koontz books, without disruption of another author or genre, and I am not left feeling a victim of assembly line story production.

Perhaps it is all personal tolerance level? I would never be caught dead reading a "romance" novel, as I believe them to be the true products of assembly line story writing. Read the back cover and you won't have to bother reading the entire book.


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