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False Memory Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Koontz explores the social dynamics that produce sociopaths. More than anything else he blames families: self-obsessed parents who finance their offspring's every whim but who are completely indifferent to their child's psychological needs or cold, selfish parents for whom the child is a reflection of their own dreams and wishes, clay to be molded into whatever the parents want most—a miniature image of themselves, a genius who will bring them accolades, a social climber who will help them rise to the top. However, Skeet and Dusty share the same mother, and both had arrogant, selfish fathers or step-fathers, yet they both seem to have been born with good hearts and have resisted and rebelled against their parental models, so the individual, asserts Koontz, has some degree of free will in the matter. Skeet is the weaker of the two and has succumbed to drug abuse and self-destructive acts, but Koontz does not make clear how much this is a result of both his step-father's belief in medication as a panacea for wayward children and Dr. Ahriman's tampering with Skeet's psyche through brainwashing techniques.

Directly connected with this theme is the question of responsibility to one's community. Martie Rhodes's father is a model of community service. A fireman nicknamed Smilin' Bob, he risked his life time and again to rescue men, women, and children threatened by fire. Martie's recurring image is of him in his firefighter's uniform wading into the midst of a blaze, black smoke billowing up around him to pull out a child others had missed. Remembered too is his modesty, his refusal to accept special awards and medals for just doing his job. Though at the time the book begins he is dead from cancer, he lives on in the memories of his daughter, inspiring her with his strength and courage. During his lifetime, he had instilled in her the attitude of self-sacrifice that enables her to stand up against adversity and fears of personal madness and to struggle through to the truth. Clearly, Koontz believes that deeds count more than words and that parental behavior provides models that children imitate—for good or for ill. Smilin' Bob's public image, confirmed in his private persona, sets a standard for Martie to follow. In her moments of despair, Martie gains security from an almost supernatural sense of Smilin' Bob's spiritual presence, guarding her from evil. Even in the worst of times, she hangs on to the memory of her father's heroism and the strength of her love for Dusty to help her overcome the destructive fantasies Ahriman implanted in her subconscious.

Offsetting the villainous Dr. Ahriman is the genuinely kindly and concerned Dr. Closterman, a physician who truly cares about his patients and who distrusts Ahriman's smug arrogance. Though he has no concrete evidence against Ahriman, he is brave enough to warn the Rhodeses that something is awry and to support their story to...

(The entire section is 734 words.)