Sep 11, 12
Read from September 02 to 10, 2012, read count: Uncountable
** spoiler alert **
One year after a plane crash took away his wife and two daughters, Joe Carpenter meets a woman who was supposed to have died in that accident as well, holding the secret of what really happened.
The title “Sole Survivor” doesn’t only point at this woman, but also at Joe himself. He’s the one left behind, the only one of his family still alive. The book is about loss, about grieving, accepting death, and about faith, believing that the human soul doesn’t just vanish into nothingness when shed of its mortal coils.
All this makes it quite heavy to swallow. It’s a dark story, a sad story, a depressing story even. Joe is a man who has basically given up on life and is just waiting to die, too scared to take care of it himself. And if it weren’t for a chance encounter on a public beach at the beginning of the novel, he might have gotten his wish. There’s almost no signature Koontz humor in this novel. It’s a very serious story.
“Sole Survivor” is mostly a mystery story, a conspiracy story, of the sort where the answers stay away until the final act. When they are delivered, the style changes very much and it’s like we’ve suddenly been transported into a science fiction story. Until we reach that conclusion, however, we’re pulled along with Joe into a very compelling investigation. But Joe isn’t just riding shotgun; he sets things in motion as well, even though he has no clue what’s going on.
Even though the novel features an enigmatic woman, there’s no trace of a love story here. The book vows to transcend material and physical love and instead concentrates on the bigger picture.
While not necessarily religious in nature, it does discuss some of the building blocks of religious groups, combined with some radical sciences – which is in fact the only thing that makes it recognizably a Koontz novel. It’s a first taste of things to come in “From the Corner of His Eye”, but also the Chris Snow books, as if Koontz is testing the waters with some variety of his theories, to see whether his audience is open enough for them.
Plotwise, “Sole Survivor” always reminds me of “The Eyes of Darkness”, while the ending comes closer to “Dark Rivers of the Heart”. It’s a story that doesn’t really end, because it creates some kind of alternate universe of our world where the villains have become too large to be dismissed.
In the finale, I thought that Joe would reach out to the boy, tell him he cared and wanted to help him, convince him to stop the attack and perhaps break him out of the facility in true "Eyes of Darkness" style.
The ending in the woods also reminded me of this movie "Fallen" with Denzel Washington.
I remember when I first read this book, I was so totally swept away by the ending, and I was ready to believe in it myself. I didn't go so far as to actually take snapshots of gravestones, but I think I did stare at a photo of a loved one passed on, somewhat in the same way I sat at a kitchen table staring at a salt shaker after reading "Strangers" for the first time.
Reading the book again now, the impact is gone. Not because I believe less, but because the idea is no longer original, because I've encountered it - or a variety of it - in so many other books since.
I did get much more out of this book during this reading. The story of loss, of being left behind alone in the world, of losing all hope ... it's not only applicable to death.