- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Katherine Ramsland scores big with this readable biography of Dean Koontz, the reigning master of mainstream fiction. Ramsland's previous foray into biography, Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice, while engaging, did not prepare me for the spectacle of Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography. This is not just the biography of a bestselling writer named Dean Koontz. This is the biography of the archetypal writer of the last part of the 20th century. And it's a read that's as much a page-turner as any of Koontz's novels.
Has anyone on the planet not heard of Dean Koontz? Between the recent smash successes of his novels Sole Survivor and Intensity and his earlier novels of note, like Demon Seed and Phantoms, Koontz has defined precisely what makes popular, read-'til-you-drop fiction. And why, some might ask, would anyone need to write another piece of biography about this guy, when there's plenty of material in The Dean Koontz Companion, published a few years ago? Has so much happened in the intervening years? No. But Ramsland is not a light biographer. She doesn't gush, either. She also doesn't attack or maim. Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography is the biographical equivalent of a Dickens novel fused with the popular form practiced by the very novelist about whom she writes. Seamlessly interweaving brief story encapsulations with the chronology of Koontz's life, Ramsland's psychological and literary biography digs into the mind of Koontz and draws parallels between his life and his work.
From his dark beginnings, asaboy from what might modestly be called a difficult family situation, we're treated to the great expectations of the future man, the Koontz of drive, vision, ambition, talent, and a profound obsession with the search for, if not meaning of, some spiritual home in the universe. These are not merely a fan's notes: While Ramsland doesn't bite the subject of her biography, she becomes the camera, panning across sections of the writer's life, zooming in on his thoughts, philosophies, conflicts, then pulling back to allow the intelligent reader some room to figure a few things out for himself or herself. This is not just the biography of a writer, or a history of publishing with all its mercurial changes from the late 1960s to the present day, nor is it just family drama. Ramsland has successfully fused multiple biographical forms, and by focusing on a figure of wide appeal like Koontz, she has created a work that looms larger than anyone aspect of her subject's life. Sure, there is plenty here for the millions of Koontz fans, so go to it, if that's your bent. But more than that, I am willing to bet that in 50 years' time, this book will stand up as a fascinating understanding of the forces of an era — from the tail end of World War II, when Koontz was born, through the turbulent 1960s, through the trickle-down '70s and '80s, into the day before yesterday — and the writer who resisted those forces and for the most part emerges intact.
Ramsland does something I find particularly engaging: She goes with her subject, the way that a good reporter does who's not out to muckrake. Her intrusions into the narrative seem brief, and the world of one man's life that she re-creates is a compelling read even if you've never heard of Dean Koontz before.
In a way, she manages to mirror a Koontz novel in her structure, for there is always a strong line of suspense and narrative tension underlying this story — as Koontz's demons follow him, and as his fortunes, like Pip's in Great Expectations, rise through much adversity and many adventures. Ramsland delivers the goods with Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography and has managed to write a book of breadth and depth, portraying one writer's devotion to both his life and his fiction. There's plenty here to surprise even Dean's closest friends and his most devoted fans. A standout!
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including the forthcoming The Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story "I Am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes" can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fabtasy and Horror: Volume 11.