Friday, December 19, 2003

Quote of the evening 

"Years ago there was a woman I wanted very much. Once in the beginning, she took off a silver bracelet she was wearing, put it on the table, and left the room to go to the toilet. I picked up the bracelet, knowing her heat was still in it, and held it in both hands. When she returned a few minutes later, the bracelet was back where she had placed it. Picking it up, she slid it back on, not knowing what she had given me. I never told her."

----Jonathan Carroll, Vienna, 8/11/02

A beautiful, wonderfully evocative snippet from an author whose work I fell madly in love with earlier this year. I'd heard the name bandied about on various lists, but it didn't click until I was crashing at my friend Thalia's the week before I returned home from London. Being a nosy git, I was perusing her bookshelves (with permission, of course) and came across her collection of Carroll novels. She informed me that I must read his work. So I borrowed Carroll's debut book, THE LAND OF LAUGHS, and took it with me when I visited a friend a few days later.

Thus began the love affair. Carroll is such a fantastic storyteller, a writer who uses deceptively plain phrasing and sentences, yet creates a world that is both frighteningly real and highly fantastical. In THE LAND OF LAUGHS, a young writer struggling to emerge from his famous father's shadow goes to a small town in Missouri to research his idol, a children's author and illustrator. Accompanying him is said author's #2 fan, a quirky, unusual woman, and when they get to town, they find that all is most certainly not what it seems. Especially when talking dogs and other magical beings start to pop up. It's a cautionary tale, a tribute to fandom, an ode to the kind of research that almost seems quaint today. Except for that, it's a book that is still as fresh now as it was when first published almost twenty-five years ago. It struck an extra-special chord in me because I could relate all too well to the protagonist's zeal at uncovering every little detail about his literary idol--for isn't that what I've done, and to a lesser extent, still do now with my own research into Shel Silverstein's ouevre? But each and every one of us has some kind of similar obsession, and that's why the book is so good.

I've only read three of his novels thus far, but I've been transported each and every time. BONES OF THE MOON (1987) seems to be a favorite of many, for good reason. It's a fairy-tale for adults, with a near-perfect melding of everyday occurrences and well, more extraordinary ones. It's also one of the best books I've read at conveying the humor and warmth that is true love. When I read SLEEPING IN FLAME (1988) recently, I was worried that the first 50 pages didn't seem to be quite "there" for whatever reason. By the end, I had the same feeling of magical transport again. There's such joy in Carroll's work, even in spite of the underlying horror. Good and evil and everything in between.

It would be such a shame to miss out. Unclassifiable, they are literary and genre and fantasy and horror and mystery novels and everything else all rolled up into one. Neil Gaiman's a fan, and so is Stephen King, but those are just some big-named authors. There are currently six of Jonathan Carroll's novels in print in the US, which is less than half of his output. I'd love to own them all, and I'll be hunting for each book I don't own like treasures in a scavenger hunt. Because that's exactly what Carroll's books are: treasures to be discovered, and devoured slowly and surely.

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