Book Reviews

From time to time, Barbara will add additional book and movie reviews to this section of her web site.

The following reviews appeared in the December 12, 1999 issue of SpinTech Magazine.

My Choices
by Barbara Branden

Dean Koontz is sometimes regarded as "merely" a mystery writer. In fact, he is a remarkable stylist, a master of suspense, a superb storyteller, and, at his best, what Ayn Rand called a "Romantic Realist." And when he departs from realism, he attempts, sometimes satisfactorily, sometimes not, to explain his departures rationally.

His large body of work is uneven in quality. I would especially recommend my two favorites, Watchers (Reprint: Berkley, 1996) and Strangers (Reprint: Berkley, 1996).

Strangers is the story of six people who do not know one another but who are united by an overwhelming terror that none of them understand. That terror brings them together, bonds them together for life, and leads them to face a powerfully moving climax that changes them unalterably--as it will eventually change the world. I found myself haunted by the climax; it is unforgettable.

The hero of Watchers is a golden retriever. His name, appropriately, is "Einstein." It does not matter if you are indifferent to dogs or deeply attached to them, you will fall in love with Einstein. His story is not sentimental, he is not the usual adorable pooch of literature; he is strong and wise and good. He is the product of genetic engineering, as is the brutally malevolent and infinitely tragic creature who is determined to destroy him. Watchers is Koontz at his storytelling best.

I hope that after reading Strangers and Watchers, you will want to delve further into Koontz's work. I have read with pleasure, almost everything he has written in and out of print.

Dean Koontz is a man in love with the human potential. He is a man incapable of despair. He wrote, in Watchers, "Although the constant shadow of certain death looms over every day, the pleasures and joys of life can be so fine and deeply affecting that the heart is nearly stilled by astonishment."

My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok (Reprint: Ballantine Books, 1996), is a small masterpiece -- small only in length. As a reviewer wrote: "It is a book written with passion about passion."

Asher Lev is a young Hasidic Jew, devoted to his religion, to his family, and to the traditions in which he has been raised. But he is more than this: from almost the beginning of his life, he is an artist, a painter, to whom drawing and painting are as natural as breathing. Part of the fascination of the book is to see the development of young Asher and to understand that an artist is who he most deeply is, that he sees the world through the eyes of an artist and knows no other way to see it.

Because of this, he is led to a an agonizing conflict. Will he remain a practicing Jew, or will he give his life to his art? He must choose, because according to Orthodox Jewish beliefs, the making of "graven images," of paintings or sculpture, is a sin. His choice, and the consequences of his choice, are a fascinating part of this remarkable and very beautiful story.

In another of his books, Potok quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: "Surely all art is the result of having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further." That names the essence of the powerful tale of Asher Lev.

©1999 by SpinTech Magazine and Barbara Branden