Your Heart Belongs to Me
Although he is known for horror and thrillers, I’ve loved the way Dean Koontz often put a strong relationship in his novels. When I learned that his new novel was about a hero fighting to get a new heart and keep his girlfriend, I thought this could be classic Koontz again. Instead, it looks like I’ll have to reread Watchers for a classic Koontz relationship.
Ryan Perry is a young Internet tycoon with a huge house, devoted servants, fancy cars, and a beautiful girlfriend, Samantha. He alternates between writing code for days and then hanging out with Samantha. Fate intervenes when he learns he has a terminal heart condition. His only hope is a heart transplant – and there’s little chance of getting a heart in time. With the illness comes paranoia. Could someone be poisoning him? When he learns something about Samantha’s past, Ryan starts investigating the people involved – and even starts to suspect Samantha. When he finds a new doctor who promises a better chance, Ryan sets shattering events into motion. Then comes the one-year anniversary of his heart surgery, and strange things start happening. Finally, the truth Ryan has avoided facing intrudes his life in the worst way possible.
Ryan lives an insular life, wrapped in a cozy house, relying on Lee and Kay Ting, his servants, yet never truly getting close to them. There’s only Samantha, but when Ryan faces an early death, he finds himself able to conceal so much from her. Much of his life is internal – something many readers won’t be able to relate to. I liked the idea of a nerdy hero with lots of internal conflict, but I wished I had known more about what drove him. Only later do we meet his parents and get some idea of the circumstances that created him. Also, Ryan isn’t always likable. His fears drive him to betray the few people who are close to him. In my favorite Koontz stories, the hero and heroine worked together and fell in love as they faced mortal danger. In Your Heart Belongs to Me, Ryan keeps pushing himself away from Samantha, and that diminishes the effect of the story.
Also, I’m not sure I “got” Samantha. She has no POV scenes, so we only see her from Ryan’s eyes. This leaves her mysterious, even though we know damn well she’s not involved in any plot against Ryan. Samantha forms sort of a moral center to the novel, trying to tell Ryan something he doesn’t want to hear. Unfortunately, she forgets to be a person in a novel rather than some kind of moral signpost. The novel is trying to teach us that Ryan eventually loses Samantha because of a flaw in his character. Again, sometimes writers have to stop trying to teach us poor readers and get back to writing.
This is far from the typical thriller. Throughout the first part of the book, the suspense is very subtle. I thought it was creepy, but not everyone will think so. This part reminded me of one of those subtle Japanese ghost films (such as Kairo) where shadows and subtle signs suggest something is wrong, and where the ghosts are really symbols of alienation. Sadly, it was more involving than many of the more important scenes, especially the climax. The conclusion hinges on some pretty outlandish stuff, with some bizarre revelations. My reaction was something like “Wait a minute. She’s a what? From where?” This is one of those cases where a supernatural explanation would have made more sense. Instead, I felt as if Koontz was using his villain to make a statement about organ donor lists.
Indeed that’s one of my big complaints with the story: It’s often overtaken by the message. I had lost track of Koontz’s books in recent years. What I learned is that many fans are annoyed by this very tendency. This book is no exception. The subplot involving Samantha’s dead sister seems to be there so that Koontz can criticize advocates of euthanasia. When Ryan sneaks into the house of the man who euthanized Samantha’s sister, it turns out this creep owns several dead people preserved in polyurethane (like the bodies in the controversial Body Worlds exhibit). This should be a scary moment, but Koontz practically stops the narrative to tell us how horrible the very concept is. When one character complained “Courts believe it’s a legitimate art, a political statement, cultural anthropology, educational, hip, cool, fun,” I wanted to say, “Get on with the story.” In his best stories, Koontz does teach moral lessons while telling a thrilling story, without preaching. I hope he hasn’t forgotten how to do that.
If you want to read Koontz at his best, my favorites so far are Watchers, Whispers, and Midnight – and all those books have a strong relationship. While I enjoyed aspects of Your Heart Belongs to Me, the best thing it did for me was made me want to re-read Koontz’s older books.