The Discomfort Zone


Anne Michael

Finding an article of clothing or a pair of shoes that feel wonderfully comfortable and as though made for you is one of life’s unexpected pleasures. I and almost every other woman I know will purchase multiples of a divine piece of clothing in a variety of colors, just because it feels so inexplicably perfect. We do the same with shoes. It is the multiple pairs of shoes that get many of us women in trouble. I always swore I was never going to be one of those women who wear two different color shoes to work. I was wrong. I have done exactly that and definitely more than once. One would have thought I would have learned after the first time. It was nothing as blatant as wearing a winter white shoe on one foot and a black one on the other. Generally, it was one black and one brown or navy blue shoe with the same outfit. It’s the kind of mistake easy to make in a mad dash out the door because I’m running late, or trying to be considerate of a sick or sleeping spouse by not turning on every light on in the bedroom. 

It’s not until someone else points out the mismatch, or you are in a meeting (when you have time to pay attention to such things) that you notice what appears to be a neon sign on your feet screaming stupid in capital letters. From that moment on, no matter how much you try to ignore the situation, those shoes become supremely miserable to wear and the discomfort lasts until they can be kicked off into the closet with relief. 

It is the same way with daily routines. If a step is missed because the phone rings or a child requires attention before school or daycare, it’s easy to forget to put the eye shadow on one eye or your trademark mascara. Once you realize the problem but are unable to remedy it, the feeling of being unnerved will last for the rest of the workday. The sudden realization that you have left the iron or curling iron plugged in all day will drive you utterly insane. 

Did you ever read a book that didn’t “feel” right when you read it? I did last week when I read The Darkest Evening of the Year. The cover is quite striking with a picture of a Golden Retriever silhouetted against a vibrant sunset in the gap of a canopy of dark trees. Because the book is by Dean Koontz, I was looking forward to reading it precisely because he authored it. Typically, the books this man writes are gripping, enthralling and delightfully nerve wracking.

The book started out in classic Koontz fashion—setting the stage for what is to come by introducing the reader to the main character, not waiting for the drama to begin halfway through the book. The story’s heroine is Amy Redwing. Amy is an ordinary mortal living in a small town with the same fears and foibles as the rest of us except for the fact that she lives to rescue abused and homeless Golden Retrievers. Her obsession with this breed of dog started at an early age, when she lived in an orphanage. A golden retriever badly in need of help found its way to her building. She dubbed the dog Nickie and nursed it back to health. Nickie and Amy were boon companions until the dog’s death at a time, coincidentally, when Amy was ready to face the world on her own. 

As the story unfolds the word “reliable” and “reliably” were used repeatedly throughout the text. Normally, Mr. Koontz is not one for using the same word over and over again. That felt odd because there is never anything noticeably redundant in his writing. His characters are meticulously crafted. The story lines are breathtaking and unrelenting, like the beat of a jungle drum. But here the use of “reliable” and its derivatives was glaring. The word kept popping out like beads of sweat on a hot summer day.

The story did not hold me tightly and nor did it draw me in seductively leaving me wanting more. It lost its impetus, its magnetic pull and its direction. It became simply an homage to the golden retriever with a wisp of story line woven in and out.

I wondered if Koontz lost his dear friend and beloved golden named “Trixie,” with whom he is often pictured on the back of his books. If so, it seems to have happened during the writing of The Darkest Evening of the Year. The feeling started with his cryptic dedication to his wife and ended with the reader’s supposition that the golden retriever Amy rescues at the beginning of the story is actually the spirit of the dog she rescued as a child. This dog spirit living in the new retriever comes back to protect Amy in her time of need. It becomes the guardian angel of the human that she once loved so well. After Amy and her boyfriend Brian are shot and miraculously healed by this guardian angel dog, the sprit of Nickie leaves the dog’s body, leaving an ordinary golden retriever behind. And that point in the story I found myself groaning uncomfortably.

The story seems somehow short-circuited and stunted. It was the first time I have ever picked up a Koontz book and been disappointed. I could not wait to have it over and done with, although I did hope it would improve with each page. It never did. Every twist and turn was predictable. Of course the bad guys do not live happily ever after.

The protagonists were fairly likeable and sympathetic. The antagonists were decently fleshed out and sufficiently reprehensible and strange enough to have fueled a great plot. But there was something intruding in the story line; it felt a great deal like grief. It seemed to derail the intensity and the drive typical of a Koontz novel. 

I am not a fan of discomfort. I am not a fan of an itch that cannot be scratched, wearing mismatched shoes or realizing only half my makeup is on when I get to work. I am not a fan of this disjointed tale. I find nothing to recommend this book at all. I know it is miserable to lose a best canine buddy and a trusted friend.  If that is, indeed, what happened to the Koontz family I offer my sincere condolences.

 As a passionate reader, however, it is hugely uncomfortable to read a book that falls woefully short of your expectations, especially when it is written by one of your favorite authors. It’s very much like buying a pair of the most glorious black boots you’ve ever laid eyes on, (that fit like a second skin) only to find out the second pair you wear a month later makes your pinky toes blister—and you no longer have the receipt!

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  


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