A strange yet enjoyable story: Dean Koontz' Strange Highways

Jan 17, 2002 (Updated Feb 28, 2003)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Very Imaginative, well written novella.

Cons:Predictable ending

The Bottom Line: I recommend this for a quick read. It grips your attention quickly and doesn't slow down a bit.


Prologue:

Because I have a 45 - 60 minute commute to work each way, and because I have lost time to read with each child I've had, I have become a huge fan of Recorded Books. I’m still able to read an average of 3 books a week. I have just finished two other Dean Koontz novels, and picked this one up when I was picking up Seize the Night. I was especially intrigued since this audio book was read by James Spader. It has been my experience that most actors and actresses do a fairly decent job reading novels, and differentiating between characters. (Pre-script to my end note: James Spader does not fall into this category.) This is a two tape, six hour story (or three days worth of driving for me… two days this week since we got a bit of snow). I have since learned that Strange Highways is actually the title story in a collection of short stories. This is the only story on the audio book, so this is what I’ll be reviewing, although I probably will look for the actual collection in a “real” book… not only to re read Strange Highways and get James Spader’s monotonous reading voice out of my head, but to check out the other stories as well.


Plot (without Spoilers):

In Dean Koontz’ Strange Highways our protagonist, Joey Shannon, lives in Las Vegas. When he runs out of money to buy liquor, he gets a job as a blackjack dealer until he has enough money to supply his addiction for awhile. Doesn’t particularly sound like someone you’re going to love by the end of the story, does he? But you will… or at least I did. In between drunken stupors, Joey laments over the shambles his life has become. He is haunted by a blonde ghost, but doesn’t know why he sees her. He is haunted by what-ifs. He once looked to be an aspiring writer. He is haunted by the success of his older brother, P.J., who did become the famous writer.

Joey is called to his boyhood home to attend his father’s funeral, as well as the reading of his father’s will. This is the first time he has been home since he left the small mining town just out of High School. He is the only Shannon in attendance, as his mother had died some years back and P.J. cannot be found, as he often takes off for months at a time on writing expeditions. After the funeral, Joey meets with the attorney with the express interest in hearing the reading of the will and hightailing it out of there. Much to his surprise, his father leaves the bulk of his estate, totaling a quarter of a million dollars to Joey. He turns it down, claiming that it has been P.J. who has been the better son, P.J. who deserved the money. P.J. has been contributing to his father’s bank account ever since he became rich and famous. It finally dawns on him that he wants nothing to do with any money that came from P.J. though he doesn’t really know why.

Joey climbs into his rental car and begins to drive out of town. Here is where the strangeness comes in. A storm begins (isn’t there always a storm?) and Joey is reminded of the last time he was ever home, and when he left. He was driving on the same road he finds himself driving on now, though he swears that road had been torn up some years before. He sees a girl by the side of the road, next to her stalled car. Though he has mixed feelings about picking her up, he feels drawn towards helping her and so he does. In an amazing storytelling maneuver, Koontz suddenly winds the clocks back to when Joey really did leave for the last time. The girl he picked up is a high school girl. He, himself, is a college student.

Together, the two embark on a strange and terrifying adventure. (That sounds like a tag line for the book, but it isn’t, I promise!) Some benevolent force keeps moving time around, giving Joey another chance to make his past right, to erase those what-ifs. Add into that intriguing mix murder, mayhem and a completely insane older brother, and you’ve got one heck of a story!


Writing Style, Motif etc.:

Strange Highways was written in the third person, focusing mostly on Joey Shannon’s thoughts and actions. The author never strays into the minds of the other characters, which is sometimes frustrating, but also scary not to know what the Big Baddie is thinking or doing. There is a lot of reference to Religion in this novel. The girl Joey picks up experiences Stigmata which only Joey can see every time they make a wrong choice. (Stigmata is the phenomenon of blood appearing on the hands where Jesus had nail holes). There is a Benevolent force at work helping the two of them, some may say God. The criminal in this is a Satanic worshipper.


End Note:

Wonderful story. I got so into it at times that I wasn’t being a very good driver (no woman driver cracks please). It was scary and well written. BUT… a word to the wise. Read it. Do not listen to the James Spader read version. He was so monotonous and hard to listen to. It took me awhile to get into the story in spite of his horrendous narration.



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