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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
The Wooden Sea

by Jonathan Carroll

(UK editions: Victor Gollancz, 16.99, 247 pages, hardback, published 17 May 2001; ISBN 0-575-07060-9; paperback, 6.99, 296 pages, published May 2002; ISBN 0-575-07291-1. US edition: Tor, $23.95, 302 pages, hardback; February 15 2001.)

Crane's View, NY, is a fictional town where Jonathan cover scanCarroll has set his last three novels, Kissing the Beehive, The Marriage of Sticks, and, now, The Wooden Sea. Each book tells a distinct story; with each book the strangeness has escalated. Kissing the Beehive was, uncharacteristically, a fairly straightforward murder mystery. The Marriage of Sticks began as a love story, but halfway through became suffused with supernatural enigmas. The Wooden Sea opens with strangeness and keeps getting stranger until the end.

Police chief Frannie McCabe, a former juvenile delinquent with a perennial roguish charm, enjoys life. He loves his wife, his step-daughter, and his cat. He approaches people and situations with empathy, curiosity, and intelligence. One day, an abandoned dog -- badly scarred, one-eyed, three-legged -- is brought to the police station and McCabe adopts him.

The old mutt dies, and McCabe's life is instantly beset by impossibilities and powerful beings who can manipulate time, reality, and death. Are they aliens, gods, devils, or something else? They lie and obfuscate with ease; can McCabe (and readers) trust their answers? McCabe is coerced into tackling a problem (involving the dog, a feather, and the creation of the universe... or so he's told) he cannot understand. In the course of this task, he confronts, in the most concrete way, his past and future; he encounters unearthed corpses, resurrections, time paradoxes, and other weird phenomena.

The Wooden Sea, like all of Carroll's books, is a feast of challenging ideas, profoundly imagined characters, elegant prose, and baffling strangeness. In Carroll, the answers are unimportant. The emphasis is on questions, relationships, and change. Carroll's fiction, in its often terrifying beauty, opens up the world as a process that can never be fully understood, but that can be a wondrous challenge to experience.

Originally published, in slightly different form,
in The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 4 August 2001.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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