Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Telltale Lightning

I don't know if this will become a habit, but I am writing, for the first time here, a book review.

Lightning is a book written by Dean Koontz, an author I came to like after reading several of his books before. The first book I'd read from him was Watchers, which I like almost as much as I like Lightning, which puts it very high in my list of favorite reading material, as Lightning is probably the best book I've ever read in my opinion. It's why I've decided to write a review on and talk about it.

It was published in 1988, three years before I was born. It was suggested by my mother after I finished the aforementioned Watchers in high spirits; that was a good book.

It tells the story of a girl, Laura Shane, who runs into multiple issues in life only to be saved every time by this mysterious man, who basically serves as her guardian. The book comes in two parts; her life from birth in 1955 to 1988, then, due to the plot, the next part on her escape from German Nazis and the plan to save the world from the Nazi's preferred result of the Second World War.
Sound kind of backwards? That's because time-travel is a key plot point.

I'm outlining the plot here, so if you want to avoid spoilers, read beyond the small print.
The setting takes place sometime between March 1944, and August 1992. The Nazis have developed a way to travel through time, but only forwards in time. They use this advantage to determine how the Second World War will turn out for them, and how they can rework their military strategy in favor of them by knowing where they go wrong and what the Allies will do. They also use it to bring back futuristic weapons and knowledge.

Stefan Krieger, a well-respected SS soldier, has turned traitor to his fellow colleagues and state, and has been using his position to sabotage their mission in whatever small way possible. On one trip to 1984, he sees Laura Shane, a quadriplegic author, signing books, and buys one. He loves her book, buys the rest of them, and ultimately falls in love with her through her writing. Thereafter he devotes the rest of his mission to both sabotaging the Third Reich's plan to rework their future in their favor by destroying the institute and scientific minds that created the time-travelling machine they call the Lightning Road, and fixing various aspects of Laura Shane's life for the better.

He prevents the drunk doctor from delivering Laura, saving her from a wheelchair, saves her and her father from a junkie that attempts to rob their store as well as rape her in 1963, threatens another child molester who has his eyes on Laura at the foster shelter he works at in 1967, and otherwise monitors her life by travelling through time at various intervals. Laura comes to believe that he's her guardian angel. She lives with her father, a grocer, as a young child (her mother died in childbirth), then comes to live in a foster shelter when her father dies of a heart attack in 1967, called the McIlroy home. Her teenage years are spent with her best friends Thelma and Ruth Ackerson in these dormitories, avoiding 'The White Eel' (the aforementioned child molester who works as the maintenance man).
Tragedy hits when Ruth dies in a fire, but both girls move on, with Laura going on to become an author, and Thelma a comedian and actor. Both are successful as Laura marries Danny in '79 and they have a son named Chris in 1980. Everything continues rosy for nearly a decade until Stefan returns in 1988 to save them from a fatal car crash on a mountain highway.

Unfortunately for Stefan, his treason is discovered in 1944 when Heinrich Kokoschka finds out he murdered the two scientists responsible for the project, and he subsequently watches Stefan do everything he does throughout the decades for Laura, ultimately deciding to kill them all when he makes that trip in 1988. Stefan successfully murders Kokoschka, but not before Kokoschka kills Danny. The latter part of the book focuses on Laura, her son Chris, and Stefan avoiding the German Gestapo and the SS in 1989 (Stefan would return to the institute in '88, wondering why no one was waiting for him after he killed Kokoschka, then go on to murder those aforementioned scientists, revealing his traitorous intentions).

In the end Stefan manages to reassert the proper pattern and direction the Germans would go in World War Two as Laura defeats the SS soldiers, and ends up living happily in their life and time. Time-travel in 1944 is destroyed when Churchill, operating on Stefan's urgent advice, bombs the institute. The final scene is "the year Chris was 12" as Laura and Thelma are peacefully rocking in chairs on a vacation in Monterey, all the men in the story by that point down walking on the beach.
For me, the story of Laura's life up to 1988 is the best part for me. I just love reading about the various events that take place in her life throughout the first three decades, and the memories it makes up to me. I consider many of the events in the plot line memorable and good to think about. Like Laura's father telling her, when she was eight, about the fictional toad on 'the queen's business' that had taken up residence in their apartment above the store. It kind of made me think and delight at the childlike wonder both she would have had, as well as I did at that age when my own mother told stories like that. Or the scenes that I had when I read about Laura and her two friends in the foster shelter. The scenes of teenage life, the memories of sharing stories and friend-to-friend talk on the rug before bedtime, or being together at the table to watch the White Eel serving food interestingly as he bore the mysterious injuries he'd no doubt gotten from Stefan. The descriptions of her family life throughout the 1980s, how things changed and her work paid off as an author while her husband managed her money and supported her.

One thing I really loved reading was the discussions between Laura and Thelma - the way they interacted and the dynamic and love their friendship had. And it made me think of real girls I knew that had similar kinds of friendships. I just loved reading how it played out and the characters acted and developed. I loved how it swiftly advanced through the decades (at least until 1988, when everything kind of slowed down), although I also think that it outlined Laura's life through the 80s a bit too quickly (she and Thelma are comforting each other after Laura's difficult labor and delivery of Chris in 1980 on page 125, and by page 132, it's already eight years later and she's stopping on the highway in response to her 'guardian's' signalling, to avoid the fatal crash). I could have enjoyed reading more of the passion, security, and sense of family she had with her husband, who is killed by Kokoschka on that highway.
No, I am not talking about passion in terms of sex, I am talking about reading more of their family as a whole, full, loving entity, before the tragedy and before it was broken up and reduced and things became lonely and melancholy for both Laura and her son.
It's a great biography and it inspires many realistic visual scenes for me, as any book does, but the way it is told is brilliant and just plain good. Then they have to find a way evade and defeat the Nazis from another time and age, all of who are bent on killing all of them.

The book also brings up to the front a lot of discussion and observation and debate about fate and destiny; Laura particularly wonders and ponders on the idea that fate will eventually reassert its intended pattern, that she will be forced to be a cripple and her son erased from existence. It was noted by Stefan that after he killed the junkie in the grocery store in 1963, only four years would pass, and she would once again be the target of a child molester in the foster shelter, of whom all the children loathed.

Ultimately, what I find best about the book, what I love reading, is the first part, the scenes of Laura and her father, the events in her early teenage life with Thelma and Ruth, and her young adulthood. It's just a great story. Watching someone grow up and mature, watching someone who has to clean out her room at the age of 12 after her father dies, watching her get friendly with the Ackerson twins, and then have the best times with them at McIlroy, the secret toad gifts she gets from a secret admirer, her future husband Danny, while in college (it is established, from the original toad story by her father, that she would grow up liking toads). The family she builds. It's all just a great story.

The ending's also cool too - in real life it would be the summer after I turned one, and had moved to 1210 Meadowlands. And people I know would be born that year. One more great plot point in the ending that I find sweet and does justice to the Thelma character is that it is revealed that she is seven months pregnant - with twins. Just like herself (her and Ruth were twins).

It's a great book, and I count it the best one over all the others I've read. The character development, the events and close friendships and life's sudden tragedies or miracles - it's all perfectly told. And the second part is also great too. The pursuit is action-filled and thrilling, as they have to evade German soldiers from the past who are bent on eliminating all of them, for they are the only people who can save the world from ensuring that it is run by the Third Reich.

I give it an A+, something I rarely, if ever, give.

Justin C.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved that book. Read it a long long time ago. Was reading all of Koontz's books at the time and then got hooked on alternate history books.