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Life Expectancy

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"Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers' waiting room and his dying father's bedside. It's a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm's fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke." "What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson - five dates
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Overview

"Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers' waiting room and his dying father's bedside. It's a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm's fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke." "What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson - five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twenty-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth." "Rudy is all too ready to discount his father's last words as a dying man's delusional ramblings. But when he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson's birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly - the unexplained anomaly of fused digits - on his left foot. Suddenly the old man's predictions take on a chilling significance." What terrifying events await Jimmy on these five dark days? What nightmares will he face? What challenges must he survive? As the novel unfolds, picking up Jimmy's story at each of these crisis points, the path he must follow will defy every expectation. And with each crisis he faces, he will move closer to a fate he could never have imagined. For who Jimmy Tock is and what he must accomplish on the five days when his world turns is a mystery as dangerous as it is wondrous - a struggle against an evil so dark and pervasive, only the most extraordinary of human spirits can shine through.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Fans of the prolific and addictively readable Dean Koontz will be scared senseless -- and quite possibly more than a little surprised -- by his most unusual novel to date, a departure of sorts from spine-tingling psychological thrillers like Strangers, Midnight, and Velocity.

Life Expectancy is a masterfully twisted suspense, granted; but it is also a profoundly moving existential tale that explores fate, love, loss -- and the healing power of humor. On the night James "Jimmy" Tock is born, his grandfather dies. But before the old man passes, he utters ten prophecies regarding his yet-unborn grandson. Not only does the grandfather foresee Jimmy's name, exact time of birth, height, and weight; he also knows that the boy will be born with syndactyly, an unexplained defect that causes an infant's digits to be fused. But most chilling of all is the grandfather's recitation of five exact dates -- some as far as 30 years in the future -- where something unspeakably horrible will befall Jimmy. As the boy grows up, he and his family prepare themselves for these "terrible days." But no amount of wild speculation will ever prepare Jimmy for the absolutely bizarre life-changing events that await him and his family.

Koontz describes the novel's dark ambiance perfectly by noting that "fear of the unknown is the most purely distilled and potent terror." Koontz is one of the most popular suspense novelists in the world, and Life Expectancy might possibly be his deepest and most philosophical work yet: a storytelling tour de force that is as terrifying as it is edifying. Paul Goat Allen

Patrick Anderson
Life Expectancy is an inventive, often hilarious fable about decency adrift in a world of madness &38230; Koontz is an adroit storyteller, and the adventures of the Tocks, although they could use some trimming, are funny, scary and entertaining.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Of all bestselling authors, Koontz may be the most underestimated by the literary establishment. Book after book, year after year, this author climbs to the top of the charts. Why? His readers know: because he is a master storyteller and a daring writer, and because, in his novels, he gives readers bright hope in a dark world. His new book is an examplar of his extraordinary work. Suspense is difficult to sustain; suspense that's buoyed steadily by humor, even as it deals with the most desperate of circumstances, is nearly impossible-yet Koontz manages it here. As in last year's brilliant Odd Thomas, Koontz writes again in the first person, employing a cleaner, more instantly accessible line than in some of his other work (e.g., this year's The Taking). His narrator is Jimmy Tock, a pastry chef in a Colorado resort town. On the day he was born, Jimmy's dying grandfather predicted five future dates that would be terrible for Jimmy; he might have mentioned, but didn't, the birth day itself, which sees a mass slaying by a bitter, deranged circus clown in the hospital where Jimmy is born. The bulk of the narrative concerns the first terrible day, about 20 years later, when the vengeful son of that clown takes Jimmy and a lovely young woman, Lorrie Hicks, hostage in the local library, with an eye toward destroying the town; Jimmy and the woman live to marry, but will they and their family survive the four subsequent terrible days? Like most of Koontz's novels, this one pits good versus evil and carries a persuasive spiritual message, about the power of love and family and the miracle of existence. As such it deals with serious, perennial themes, yet with its steady drizzle of jokes and witty repartee, it does so with a lightness of touch that few other authors can match. Koontz is a true original and this novel, one of his most unusual yet, will leave readers aglow and be a major bestseller. If the literary establishment would only catch on to him, it might be an award-winner too. (Dec. 7) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While a man is dying in the ICU, his daughter-in-law is giving birth in the same hospital's maternity ward. As his final moment approaches, this man bursts forth with a string of predictions about his unborn grandson. Rudy Tock, the father-in-waiting and the man's soon-to-be grieving son, faithfully records the ten predictions on the back of a circus pass only moments before confronting an enraged and murderous clown in the obstetrical unit's waiting room. And thus our tale begins. Koontz's (Doubting Thomas) latest is a sardonic narrative that follows Jimmy Tock through the trials and ordeals alluded to in his grandfather's predictions. Although the elements of magic realism employed here lend literary authority to Koontz's exploration of how attitude and perspective can shape one's reality, the black humor that underlies the tale threatens to topple his precarious construct. Those among Koontz's readership who support his sojourns from suspenseful horror will, no doubt, welcome this offering. Others may choose to pass. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/04.]-Nancy McNicol, Ora Mason Lib., West Haven, CT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Koontz shoots for a seriocomic horror novel and takes a dive. Following the failure of The Taking (2004), which began so brilliantly, then faded into Dullsville with an alien invasion, Koontz strives for high entertainment with a ton of witty dialogue, which fans may find passable but others will deem tiresome. The problem is that the story opens with murders in a maternity ward and a crazed clown raving about the excremental existence of the world-famed Vivacemente aerialists. From this emerges a forecast that Jimmy Tock, a lummox born at the same moment his grandfather dies in the same blood-strewn hospital, will have to face five ghastly days in his future. When the first ghastly day arrives, the adult Jimmy is in his small-town library. Punchinello Beezo, the same hospital maniac who appeared at his birth, shoots a librarian and holds Jimmy and Lorrie Lynn Hicks hostage while Beezo and two grisly buddies plant explosives in secret tunnels linking the library to the courthouse and two other buildings. At this point Koontz starts whipping out the witty exchanges between Jimmy and Lorrie as they seemingly face death. It's a dire authorial misstep: the second act of a Grand Guignol bloodfest is no place for Nick-and-Nora-style repartee from The Thin Man. True, a genius could get away with it, and Koontz has genius-but not for humor. Doubtless he amused himself, but his lines are forced blooms. Since logic dictates that Jimmy must survive at least the first four ghastly days (three of which turn out to be humdrum melodrama), the suspense is minimal despite all the guns and dread. The climax turns on incest, but we'll say no more. Readers will need all the suspense possible to keep themwading through the comedy lines. Koontz is a topflight suspense writer, but this error only the fans will love. First printing of 600,000. Agent: Robert Gottlieb/Trident Media Group. Film rights handled jointly through Trident Media and Endeavor
From the Publisher
“Delightful . . . funny, scary and entertaining.”—The Washington Post Book World
 
“Koontz is a master storyteller and a daring writer, and in his novels he gives readers bright hope in a dark world. [Life Expectancy], an exemplar of his extraordinary work [and] one of his most unusual yet, will leave readers aglow.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Brilliant . . . [Koontz] writes of hope and love in the midst of evil in profoundly inspiring and moving ways.”—Chicago Sun-Times
 
“A roller-coaster ride . . . remarkable . . . Prepare to be enchanted.”—The Sunday Oregonian
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553588248
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/25/2005
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 496
  • Lexile: 1000L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.15 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Dean Koontz is the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers. He lives with his wife, Gerda, and their dog, Trixie, in southern California.

Biography

He is one of the most recognized, read, and loved suspense writers of the 20th century. His imagination is a veritable factory of nightmares, conjuring twisted tales of psychological complexity. He even has a fan in Stephen King. For decades, Dean Koontz's name has been synonymous with terror, and his novels never fail to quicken the pulse and set hearts pounding.

Koontz has a lifelong love of writing that led him to spend much of his free time as an adult furiously cultivating his style and voice. However, it was only after his wife Gerda made him an offer he couldn't refuse while he was teaching English at a high school outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that he had a real opportunity to make a living with his avocation. Gerda agreed to support Dean for five years, during which time he could try to get his writing career off the ground. Little did she know that by the end of that five years she would be leaving her own job to handle the financial end of her husband's massively successful writing career.

Koontz first burst into the literary world with 1970's Beastchild, a science fiction novel that appealed to genre fans with its descriptions of aliens and otherworldly wars but also mined deeper themes of friendship and the breakdown of communication. Although it is not usually ranked among his classics, Beastchild provided the first inkling of Koontz's talent for populating even the most fantastical tale with fully human characters. Even at his goriest or most terrifying, he always allows room for redemption.

This complexity is what makes Koontz's work so popular with readers. He has a true gift for tempering horror with humanity, grotesqueries with lyricism. He also has a knack for genre-hopping, inventing Hitchcockian romantic mysteries, crime dramas, supernatural thrillers, science fiction, and psychological suspense with equal deftness and imagination. Perhaps The Times (London) puts it best: "Dean Koontz is not just a master of our darkest dreams, but also a literary juggler."

Good To Know

Shortly after graduating from college, Koontz took a job with the Appalachian Poverty Program where he would tutor and counsel underprivileged kids. However, after finding out that the last person who held his job had been beaten up and hospitalized by some of these kids, Koontz was more motivated than ever to get his writing career going.

When Koontz was a senior in college, he won the Atlantic Monthly fiction competition.

Koontz and Kevin Anderson's novel Frankenstein: The Prodigal Son was slotted to become a television series produced by Martin Scorsese. However, when the pilot failed to sell, the USA Network aired it as a TV movie in 2004. By that time Koontz had removed his name from the project.

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Koontz:

"My wife, Gerda, and I took seven years of private ballroom dancing lessons, twice a week, ninety minutes each time. After we had gotten good at everything from swing to the foxtrot, we not only stopped taking lessons, but also stopped going dancing. Learning had been great fun; but for both of us, going out for an evening of dancing proved far less exhilarating than the learning. We both have a low boredom threshold. Now we dance at a wedding or other celebration perhaps once a year, and we're creaky."

"On my desk is a photograph given to me by my mother after Gerda and I were engaged to be married. It shows 23 children at a birthday party. It is neither my party nor Gerda's. I am three years old, going on four. Gerda is three. In that crowd of kids, we are sitting directly across a table from each other. I'm grinning, as if I already know she's my destiny, and Gerda has a serious expression, as if she's worried that I might be her destiny. We never met again until I was a senior in high school and she was a junior. We've been trying to make up for that lost time ever since.

"Gerda and I worked so much for the first two decades of our marriage that we never took a real vacation until our twentieth wedding anniversary. Then we went on a cruise, booking a first-class suite, sparing no expense. For more than half the cruise, the ship was caught in a hurricane. The open decks were closed because waves would have washed passengers overboard. About 90% of the passengers spent day after day in their cabins, projectile vomiting. We discovered that neither of us gets seasick. We had the showrooms, the casino, and the buffets virtually to ourselves. Because the crew had no one to serve, our service was exemplary. The ship dared not try to put into the scheduled ports; it was safer on the open sea. The big windows of the main bar presented a spectacular view of massive waves and lightning strikes that stabbed the sea by the score. Very romantic. We had a grand time.

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    1. Also Known As:
      David Axton, Brian Coffey, K.R. Dwyer, Deanna Dwyer, John Hill, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, Aaron Wolfe
    2. Hometown:
      Newport Beach, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 9, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Everett, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.S. (major in English), Shippensburg University, 1966
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

On the night that I was born, my paternal grand-father, Josef Tock, made ten predictions that shaped my life. Then he died in the very minute that my mother gave birth to me.
Josef had never previously engaged in fortune-telling. He was a pastry chef. He made éclairs and lemon tarts, not predictions.
Some lives, conducted with grace, are beautiful arcs bridging this world to eternity. I am thirty years old and can't for certain see the course of my life, but rather than a graceful arc, my passage seems to be a herky-jerky line from one crisis to another.
I am a lummox, by which I do not mean stupid, only that I am biggish for my size and not always aware of where my feet are going.
This truth is not offered in a spirit of self-deprecation or even humility. Apparently, being a lummox is part of my charm, an almost winsome trait, as you will see.
No doubt I have now raised in your mind the question of what I intend to imply by "biggish for my size." Autobiography is proving to be a trickier task than I first imagined.
I am not as tall as people seem to think I am, in fact not tall at all by the standards of professional-or even of high school-basketball. I am neither plump nor as buff as an iron-pumping fitness fanatic. At most I am somewhat husky.
Yet men taller and heavier than I am often call me "big guy." My nickname in school was Moose. From childhood, I have heard people joke about how astronomical our grocery bills must be.
The disconnect between my true size and many people's perception of my dimensions has always mystified me.
My wife, who is the linchpin of my life, claims that I have a presence much bigger than my physique. She says that people measure me by the impression I make on them.
I find this notion ludicrous. It is bullshit born of love.
If sometimes I make an outsized impression on people, it's as likely as not because I fell on them. Or stepped on their feet.
In Arizona, there is a place where a dropped ball appears to roll uphill in defiance of gravity. In truth, this effect is a trick of perspective in which elements of a highly unusual landscape conspire to deceive the eye.
I suspect I am a similar freak of nature. Perhaps light reflects oddly from me or bends around me in a singular fashion, so I appear to be more of a hulk than I am.
On the night I was born in Snow County Hospital, in the community of Snow Village, Colorado, my grandfather told a nurse that I would be twenty inches long and weigh eight pounds ten ounces.
The nurse was startled by this prediction not because eight pounds ten is a huge newborn-many are larger-and not because my grandfather was a pastry chef who suddenly began acting as though he were a crystal-ball gazer. Four days previously he had suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak; yet from his bed in the intensive care unit, he began making prognostications in a clear voice, without slur or hesitation.
He also told her that I would be born at 10:46 p.m. and that I would suffer from syndactyly.
That is a word difficult to pronounce before a stroke, let alone after one.
Syndactyly-as the observing nurse explained to my father-is a congenital defect in which two or more fingers or toes are joined. In serious cases, the bones of adjacent digits are fused to such an extent that two fingers share a single nail.
Multiple surgeries are required to correct such a condition and to ensure that the afflicted child will grow into an adult capable of giving the F-you finger to anyone who sufficiently annoys him.
In my case, the trouble was toes. Two were fused on the left foot, three on the right.
My mother, Madelaine-whom my father affectionately calls Maddy or sometimes the Mad One-insists that they considered forgoing the surgery and, instead, christening me Flipper.
Flipper was the name of a dolphin that once starred in a hit TV show-not surprisingly titled Flipper-in the late 1960s. My mother describes the program as "delightfully, wonderfully, hilariously stupid." It went off the air a few years before I was born.
Flipper, a male, was played by a trained dolphin named Suzi. This was most likely the first instance of transvestism on television. Actually, that's not the right word because transvestism is a male dressing as a female for sexual gratification. Besides, Suzi-alias Flipper-didn't wear clothes.
So it was a program in which the female star always appeared nude and was sufficiently butch to pass for a male.
Just two nights ago at dinner, over one of my mother's infamous cheese-and-broccoli pies, she asked rhetorically if it was any wonder that such a dire collapse in broadcast standards, begun with Flipper, should lead to the boring freak-show shock that is contemporary television.
Playing her game, my father said, "It actually began with Lassie. In every show, she was nude, too."
"Lassie was always played by male dogs," my mother replied. "There you go," Dad said, his point made.
I escaped being named Flipper when successful surgeries restored my toes to the normal condition. In my case, the fusion involved only skin, not bones. The separation was a relatively simple procedure. Nevertheless, on that uncommonly stormy night, my grandfather's prediction of syndactyly proved true.
If I had been born on a night of unremarkable weather, family legend would have transformed it into an eerie calm, every leaf motionless in breathless air, night birds silent with expectation. The Tock family has a proud history of self-dramatization.
Even allowing for exaggeration, the storm must have been violent enough to shake the Colorado mountains to their rocky foundations. The heavens cracked and flashed as if celestial armies were at war. Still in the womb, I remained unaware of all the thunderclaps. And once born, I was probably distracted by my strange feet.
This was August 9, 1974, the day Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States.
Nixon's fall has no more to do with me than the fact that John Denver's "Annie's Song" was the number-one record in the country at the time. I mention it only to provide historical perspective. Nixon or no Nixon, what I find most important about August 9, 1974, is my birth-and my grandfather's predictions. My sense of perspective has an egocentric taint.
Perhaps more clearly than if I had been there, because of vivid pictures painted by numerous family stories of that night, I can see my father, Rudy Tock, walking back and forth from one end of County Hospital to the other, between the maternity ward and the ICU, between joy at the prospect of his son's pending arrival and grief over his beloved father's quickening slide into death. z With blue vinyl-tile floor, pale-green wainscoting, pink walls, a yellow ceiling, and orange-and-white stork-patterned drapes, the expectant- fathers' lounge churned with the negative energy of color overload. It would have served well as the nervous-making set for a nightmare about a children's-show host who led a secret life as an ax murderer.
The chain-smoking clown didn't improve the ambience.
Rudy stood birth watch with only one other man, not a local but a performer with the circus that was playing a one-week engagement in a meadow at the Halloway Farm. He called himself Beezo. Curiously, this proved not to be his clown name but one that he'd been born with: Konrad Beezo.
Some say there is no such thing as destiny, that what happens just happens, without purpose or meaning. Konrad's surname would argue otherwise.
Beezo was married to Natalie, a trapeze artist and a member of a renowned aerialist family that qualified as circus royalty.
Neither of Natalie's parents, none of her brothers and sisters, and none of her high-flying cousins had accompanied Beezo to the hospital. This was a performance night, and as always the show must go on.
Evidently the aerialists kept their distance also because they had not approved of one of their kind taking a clown for a husband. Every subculture and ethnicity has its objects of bigotry.
As Beezo waited nervously for his wife to deliver, he muttered unkind judgments of his in-laws. "Self-satisfied," he called them, and "devious." The clown's perpetual glower, rough voice, and bitterness made Rudy uncomfortable.
Angry words plumed from him in exhalations of sour smoke: "duplicitous" and "scheming" and, poetically for a clown, "blithe spirits of the air, but treacherous when the ground is under them."
Beezo was not in full costume. Furthermore, his stage clothes were in the Emmett Kelly sad-faced tradition rather than the bright polka-dot plumage of the average Ringling Brothers clown. He cut a strange figure nonetheless.
A bright plaid patch blazed across the seat of his baggy brown suit. The sleeves of his jacket were comically short. In one lapel bloomed a fake flower the diameter of a bread plate.
Before racing to the hospital with his wife, he had traded clown shoes for sneakers and had taken off his big round red rubber nose. White greasepaint still encircled his eyes, however, and his cheeks remained heavily rouged, and he wore a rumpled porkpie hat.
Beezo's bloodshot eyes shone as scarlet as his painted cheeks, perhaps because of the acrid smoke wreathing his head, although Rudy suspected that strong drink might be involved as well.
In those days, smoking was permitted everywhere, even in many hospital waiting rooms. Expectant fathers traditionally gave out cigars by way of celebration.
When not at his dying father's bedside, poor Rudy should have been able to take refuge in that lounge. His grief should have been mitigated by the joy of his pending parenthood.
Instead, both Maddy and Natalie were long in labor. Each time that Rudy returned from the ICU, waiting for him was the glowering, muttering, bloody-eyed clown, burning through pack after pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes.
As drumrolls of thunder shook the heavens, as reflections of lightning shuddered through the windows, Beezo made a stage of the maternity ward lounge. Restlessly circling the blue vinyl floor, from pink wall to pink wall, he smoked and fumed.
"Do you believe that snakes can fly, Rudy Tock? Of course you don't. But snakes can fly. I've seen them high above the center ring. They're well paid and applauded, these cobras, these diamondbacks, these copperheads, these hateful vipers."
Poor Rudy responded to this vituperative rant with murmured consolation, clucks of the tongue, and sympathetic nods. He didn't want to encourage Beezo, but he sensed that a failure to commiserate would make him a target for the clown's anger.
Pausing at a storm-washed window, his painted face further patinated by the lightning-cast patterns of the streaming raindrops on the glass, Beezo said, "Which are you having, Rudy Tock-a son or daughter?"
Beezo consistently addressed Rudy by his first and last names, as if the two were one: Rudytock.
"They have a new ultrasound scanner here," Rudy replied, "so they could tell us whether it's a boy or girl, but we don't want to know. We just care is the baby healthy, and it is."
Beezo's posture straightened, and he raised his head, thrusting his face toward the window as if to bask in the pulsing storm light. "I don't need ultrasound to tell me what I know. Natalie is giving me a son. Now the Beezo name won't die when I do. I'll call him Punchinello, after one of the first and greatest of clowns."
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First Chapter

1

On the night that I was born, my paternal grand-father, Josef Tock, made ten predictions that shaped my life. Then he died in the very minute that my mother gave birth to me.

Josef had never previously engaged in fortune-telling. He was a pastry chef. He made éclairs and lemon tarts, not predictions.

Some lives, conducted with grace, are beautiful arcs bridging this world to eternity. I am thirty years old and can't for certain see the course of my life, but rather than a graceful arc, my passage seems to be a herky-jerky line from one crisis to another.

I am a lummox, by which I do not mean stupid, only that I am biggish for my size and not always aware of where my feet are going.

This truth is not offered in a spirit of self-deprecation or even humility. Apparently, being a lummox is part of my charm, an almost winsome trait, as you will see.

No doubt I have now raised in your mind the question of what I intend to imply by "biggish for my size." Autobiography is proving to be a trickier task than I first imagined.

I am not as tall as people seem to think I am, in fact not tall at all by the standards of professional—or even of high school—basketball. I am neither plump nor as buff as an iron-pumping fitness fanatic. At most I am somewhat husky.

Yet men taller and heavier than I am often call me "big guy." My nickname in school was Moose. From childhood, I have heard people joke about how astronomical our grocery bills must be.

The disconnect between my true size and many people's perception of my dimensions has always mystified me.

My wife, who is the linchpin of my life, claimsthat I have a presence much bigger than my physique. She says that people measure me by the impression I make on them.

I find this notion ludicrous. It is bullshit born of love.

If sometimes I make an outsized impression on people, it's as likely as not because I fell on them. Or stepped on their feet.

In Arizona, there is a place where a dropped ball appears to roll uphill in defiance of gravity. In truth, this effect is a trick of perspective in which elements of a highly unusual landscape conspire to deceive the eye.

I suspect I am a similar freak of nature. Perhaps light reflects oddly from me or bends around me in a singular fashion, so I appear to be more of a hulk than I am.

On the night I was born in Snow County Hospital, in the community of Snow Village, Colorado, my grandfather told a nurse that I would be twenty inches long and weigh eight pounds ten ounces.

The nurse was startled by this prediction not because eight pounds ten is a huge newborn—many are larger—and not because my grandfather was a pastry chef who suddenly began acting as though he were a crystal-ball gazer. Four days previously he had suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak; yet from his bed in the intensive care unit, he began making prognostications in a clear voice, without slur or hesitation.

He also told her that I would be born at 10:46 p.m. and that I would suffer from syndactyly.

That is a word difficult to pronounce before a stroke, let alone after one.

Syndactyly—as the observing nurse explained to my father—is a congenital defect in which two or more fingers or toes are joined. In serious cases, the bones of adjacent digits are fused to such an extent that two fingers share a single nail.

Multiple surgeries are required to correct such a condition and to ensure that the afflicted child will grow into an adult capable of giving the F-you finger to anyone who sufficiently annoys him.

In my case, the trouble was toes. Two were fused on the left foot, three on the right.

My mother, Madelaine—whom my father affectionately calls Maddy or sometimes the Mad One—insists that they considered forgoing the surgery and, instead, christening me Flipper.

Flipper was the name of a dolphin that once starred in a hit TV show—not surprisingly titled Flipper—in the late 1960s. My mother describes the program as "delightfully, wonderfully, hilariously stupid." It went off the air a few years before I was born.

Flipper, a male, was played by a trained dolphin named Suzi. This was most likely the first instance of transvestism on television. Actually, that's not the right word because transvestism is a male dressing as a female for sexual gratification. Besides, Suzi—alias Flipper—didn't wear clothes.

So it was a program in which the female star always appeared nude and was sufficiently butch to pass for a male.

Just two nights ago at dinner, over one of my mother's infamous cheese-and-broccoli pies, she asked rhetorically if it was any wonder that such a dire collapse in broadcast standards, begun with Flipper, should lead to the boring freak-show shock that is contemporary television.

Playing her game, my father said, "It actually began with Lassie. In every show, she was nude, too."

"Lassie was always played by male dogs," my mother replied. "There you go," Dad said, his point made.

I escaped being named Flipper when successful surgeries restored my toes to the normal condition. In my case, the fusion involved only skin, not bones. The separation was a relatively simple procedure. Nevertheless, on that uncommonly stormy night, my grandfather's prediction of syndactyly proved true.

If I had been born on a night of unremarkable weather, family legend would have transformed it into an eerie calm, every leaf motionless in breathless air, night birds silent with expectation. The Tock family has a proud history of self-dramatization.

Even allowing for exaggeration, the storm must have been violent enough to shake the Colorado mountains to their rocky foundations. The heavens cracked and flashed as if celestial armies were at war. Still in the womb, I remained unaware of all the thunderclaps. And once born, I was probably distracted by my strange feet.

This was August 9, 1974, the day Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States.

Nixon's fall has no more to do with me than the fact that John Denver's "Annie's Song" was the number-one record in the country at the time. I mention it only to provide historical perspective. Nixon or no Nixon, what I find most important about August 9, 1974, is my birth—and my grandfather's predictions. My sense of perspective has an egocentric taint.

Perhaps more clearly than if I had been there, because of vivid pictures painted by numerous family stories of that night, I can see my father, Rudy Tock, walking back and forth from one end of County Hospital to the other, between the maternity ward and the ICU, between joy at the prospect of his son's pending arrival and grief over his beloved father's quickening slide into death. z With blue vinyl-tile floor, pale-green wainscoting, pink walls, a yellow ceiling, and orange-and-white stork-patterned drapes, the expectant- fathers' lounge churned with the negative energy of color overload. It would have served well as the nervous-making set for a nightmare about a children's-show host who led a secret life as an ax murderer.

The chain-smoking clown didn't improve the ambience.

Rudy stood birth watch with only one other man, not a local but a performer with the circus that was playing a one-week engagement in a meadow at the Halloway Farm. He called himself Beezo. Curiously, this proved not to be his clown name but one that he'd been born with: Konrad Beezo.

Some say there is no such thing as destiny, that what happens just happens, without purpose or meaning. Konrad's surname would argue otherwise.

Beezo was married to Natalie, a trapeze artist and a member of a renowned aerialist family that qualified as circus royalty.

Neither of Natalie's parents, none of her brothers and sisters, and none of her high-flying cousins had accompanied Beezo to the hospital. This was a performance night, and as always the show must go on.

Evidently the aerialists kept their distance also because they had not approved of one of their kind taking a clown for a husband. Every subculture and ethnicity has its objects of bigotry.

As Beezo waited nervously for his wife to deliver, he muttered unkind judgments of his in-laws. "Self-satisfied," he called them, and "devious." The clown's perpetual glower, rough voice, and bitterness made Rudy uncomfortable.

Angry words plumed from him in exhalations of sour smoke: "duplicitous" and "scheming" and, poetically for a clown, "blithe spirits of the air, but treacherous when the ground is under them."

Beezo was not in full costume. Furthermore, his stage clothes were in the Emmett Kelly sad-faced tradition rather than the bright polka-dot plumage of the average Ringling Brothers clown. He cut a strange figure nonetheless.

A bright plaid patch blazed across the seat of his baggy brown suit. The sleeves of his jacket were comically short. In one lapel bloomed a fake flower the diameter of a bread plate.

Before racing to the hospital with his wife, he had traded clown shoes for sneakers and had taken off his big round red rubber nose. White greasepaint still encircled his eyes, however, and his cheeks remained heavily rouged, and he wore a rumpled porkpie hat.

Beezo's bloodshot eyes shone as scarlet as his painted cheeks, perhaps because of the acrid smoke wreathing his head, although Rudy suspected that strong drink might be involved as well.

In those days, smoking was permitted everywhere, even in many hospital waiting rooms. Expectant fathers traditionally gave out cigars by way of celebration.

When not at his dying father's bedside, poor Rudy should have been able to take refuge in that lounge. His grief should have been mitigated by the joy of his pending parenthood.

Instead, both Maddy and Natalie were long in labor. Each time that Rudy returned from the ICU, waiting for him was the glowering, muttering, bloody-eyed clown, burning through pack after pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes.

As drumrolls of thunder shook the heavens, as reflections of lightning shuddered through the windows, Beezo made a stage of the maternity ward lounge. Restlessly circling the blue vinyl floor, from pink wall to pink wall, he smoked and fumed.

"Do you believe that snakes can fly, Rudy Tock? Of course you don't. But snakes can fly. I've seen them high above the center ring. They're well paid and applauded, these cobras, these diamondbacks, these copperheads, these hateful vipers."

Poor Rudy responded to this vituperative rant with murmured consolation, clucks of the tongue, and sympathetic nods. He didn't want to encourage Beezo, but he sensed that a failure to commiserate would make him a target for the clown's anger.

Pausing at a storm-washed window, his painted face further patinated by the lightning-cast patterns of the streaming raindrops on the glass, Beezo said, "Which are you having, Rudy Tock—a son or daughter?"

Beezo consistently addressed Rudy by his first and last names, as if the two were one: Rudytock.

"They have a new ultrasound scanner here," Rudy replied, "so they could tell us whether it's a boy or girl, but we don't want to know. We just care is the baby healthy, and it is."

Beezo's posture straightened, and he raised his head, thrusting his face toward the window as if to bask in the pulsing storm light. "I don't need ultrasound to tell me what I know. Natalie is giving me a son. Now the Beezo name won't die when I do. I'll call him Punchinello, after one of the first and greatest of clowns."
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 378 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 380 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    Another Score for Koontz

    I've only read a few of Dean Koontz's works, but of those that I have read, this one is the best! It displays wit and humour. It adds a little brush with the unknown and the realm of fantasy. It also throws in some romance, as well. The interaction between the protagonist and the antagonist was very interesting as well. The twists were surprising, without being too farfetched. All in all, you don't have to be a fan of Koontz to like this book!

    17 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2008

    My first Dean Koontz book - a sure winner!!

    This was my first Dean Koontz book - I'm not much for horror or gross type stories which I thought Dean Koontz was known for. This was not gory or horrific. No bad words, racy sex stories...probably the most different book I've ever read! Definitely one worthy of keeping in my permanent library! It was certainly an original storyline. Weird, but somehow not unbelievable. VERY ENTERTAINING! I loved it! I've since tried one other Dean Koontz but it was gross & boring & I couldn't finish it. I hope to find more Dean Koontz written like Life Expectancy!!

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    I didn't see that coming

    There is a twist in this book that will leave you with your mouth hanging open. In true Koontz form this book has you turning pages at a lightning fast pace and never disappoints. I love the hidden message about happiness being a choice.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is my favorite book for a very long time! I bought it as gifts for members of my family and several friends. It was so much fun. I loved the characters, the banter between characters, and the crazy action. I loved, loved, loved this book!

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book was an awesome read!! It made me cry, laugh, bite my nails. its everything you could want in a book!! The ending is excellent and riveting to the end... worth every penny that I spent on it!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2007

    Brilliant, as always

    Dean Koontz is my absolute favorite author of all time. Life Expectancy is the best of all he's written. Those who know Dean Koontz and his style will thrill over this one book. He's funny, witty without being pretentious, and his characters have flaws that we all share. The brilliance is in the story telling. Koontz is a master. I have over 31 of his books and 'Life Expectancy' is my favorite! Read about 3 other titles before you pick this one up and you'll appreciate the voice he uses more. Keep 'em coming, Dean!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    Page-burning, adrenaline pumping action!

    My aunt's friend frst reccomended Life Expectancy to me while I was reading Watchers, also by Dean Koontz. At first I was reluctant to read it, but it quickly grabbed my attention within the first few pages. Every author has their style which shows in each novel they write, but while rading Life Expectancy, sometimes I forgot who I as reading. This is, without a doubt, one of the best books by Dean Koontz I have ever read! You will not be disappointed.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2008

    AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    this book was incredible and definetly one of my favoritez! koontz's ability to keep you in suspense and having you turning the pages til the early morning are extraodinary and i found myself unable to put the book down!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2007

    Really Good

    I really liked this book. It felt like Dean Koontz wrote it just for me. Nice plot twists and turns. I could not put it down. It's a must read.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    5 stars

    Just finished it and loved it - one of only a handful of "5 out of 5"s, in my opinion. Koontz doesn't disappoint.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Absorbing Life Expectancy

    What can I say other than "Life Expectancy" is one of Dean Koontz's best novels? The offbeat plot combines a fine blend of drama, suspense, love of family, and humor. The pace is crisp, the characters are interesting, and you will want Jimmy Tock and his family to show up again in another Koontz story. "Life Expectancy" is a tale you will long remember.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2014

    This was the second Dean Koontz book I have read. The first was

    This was the second Dean Koontz book I have read. The first was not memorable and I did not feel inclined to read anything more by the author. However, I bought this book rather impulsively during a shopping spree and I am so glad I did! I LOVED the main character! Even the villian/villains were awesome in a freaky "holy crap" kind of way. The "hero's" family added real energy and humor to the story. I am now a Dean Koontz fan and have just begun the Odd Thomas series. I'm enjoying those as well!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    One of my favorites

    Ive had this book in hard copy for many years and its one of my favorites. Even though there are so many good ones. I read this one problably about once a year and i introduced my daughter to the works of koontz with this one here. Who could ever think up such a story. Or such a name? Punchinello Beezo? Love it. Love it love it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2013

    DonnaMarie33

    Probably my favorite book by Koontz ever! I am relly hoping for a sequel! Was a quick read and was unable to put down. Gave it to my husband, best friend, and 23yr old daughter-and all 3 of them loved it too. I promise you will love it too!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008

    One of Koontz's best!!

    I absolutely LOVED this book. It's one of his great books where you are a hundred pages in before you even realize it. It's a non-stop terrifying thrill ride for Jimmy and Lorrie from the moment they meet. With psychotic clowns, aerialists and plenty of humor, Life Expectancy is one of those books that makes me wish for such an eventful (good or bad) life!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is a book I would recommand for anyone who has the patience to sit down and read. The ending of this book is very surprising. It will keep you gripped to your seat so tight you will never be able to let go. So this book is great for the whole family. Read it and prepare to be enchanted.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2007

    His best work yet!

    I read the first chapter and couldn't stop. It's like best, most addictive drug you can take! I read it in half a week, it was that good! Step back Stephen King, there's a new kid in town!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2007

    A great, funny, and smooth read!

    This book has a very funny side to it and is appropriate because of who the main characters are dealing with. I guess the dark humor in it is to be expected. I read this one very fast and hope there will be a part 2 but who knows.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2006

    Very engaging

    I really enjoyed this book! I haven't read a lot of stuff by Dean Koontz yet, but I did really enjoy this book. It was kind of weird, but in a good way, and I didn't want to stop reading it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Page-turner Doesn't Disappoint

    For someone who thinks his existence is pretty commonplace, Jimmy Tock sure has some eventful days. Five eventful days, in fact, as predicted by his dying grandfather on the day Jimmy was born. A riveting story with some laugh-out-loud lines, Life Expectancy shares a theme common in other Koontz books: reverence for the everyday world and its wonders, bolstered by a deep and abiding faith in the unseen world that often intervenes.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 380 Customer Reviews

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