OF OUR SHADOW
Jonathan Carroll is simply one of the interesting horror-fantasy writers there is. Idiosyncratic, endlessly thought-provoking and compulsively readable, Carrollís novels arenít like anyone elseís. I donít feel all his books are completely successful, but itís my contention that all of them provide wonderful and thoroughly unprecedented reading experiences.
VOICE OF OUR SHADOW was Carrollís second novel. Itís been praised by Stephen King as a novel he wishes heíd written himself, but in truth the only person who could have penned this sexy, disquieting, wise and delirious tale, or even conceived it, is the one and only Jonathan Carroll.
Like many of Carrollís other novels itís told in the first person. The point of view is that of Joe Lennox, a young writer haunted by childhood memories of his deceased brother, whose death Joe canít help but feel responsible for. The story begins oddly, with detailed childhood memories that donít pertain to the bulk of the novel. However, they have a way of pervading the narrative like a contagious malady, and thereís an unexpected death that eerily parallels Joeís brotherís tragic demise.
Such eccentric touches are typical of Carrollís idiosyncratic construction. A respecter of traditional dramatics Jonathan Carroll is not, yet his talent carries one along. Among his many other virtues, Carrollís grasp of character is virtually without parallel; the people in this book are so vividly imagined you may almost feel as if youíve met them in the flesh.
The grown-up Joe, in an effort to put his dark memories to rest once and for all, settles in Vienna (as did Carroll), where he meets India and Paul Tate. Sheís an attractive woman of movie star poise and he a highly eccentric magician. A friendship is forged between these three oddballs, only to be inexorably fractured by a romance that develops between Joe and India. Paul isnít at all happy about this, and, perhaps out of grief at his wifeís infidelity, dies suddenly.
His spirit lives on, however, and takes to tormenting Joe and India with numerous spectral visitations. The ghostly harassment grows so unbearable that Joe moves back to the US.
Here Carroll breaks the rules once again by introducing a pivotal character in the third act: Karen, a vivacious American woman with whom Joe falls in love. Her presence further complicates the bookís toxic love triangle, and eventually forces Joe to accept some uncomfortable truths about himself. It all leads to a twist ending of such utter outrageousness it boggles the mind, and turns an elegantly written, supernaturally endowed character study into a perverse horror fest.
Some will feel betrayed by the ending. Theyíll claim Carroll isnít playing fair, and they may be right. Yet I like the novel, with its free-form structure topped off by a conclusion so unexpected it canít help but fit right in.