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Jonathan Carroll
The Ghost in Love
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2008

Sarah Crichton Books /
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 98-0-374-16186-6
Publication Date: 10-08-2008
310 Pages; $25l
Date Reviewed: 11-29-08

Index: General Fiction  Mystery
Interview: 12-01-08

We're generally too busy living our lives to understand them, let alone understand how we understand. We're only vaguely aware of where we're coming from, unclear on where we're going, and unaware of the basis of the decisions that get us from one moment to the next, because we are so immersed in each moment. Fiction can take us out of ourselves, and out of the moment long enough for us to get our bearings, to get some much needed perspective. That's also the goal of many so-called self-help and spiritual books, but the entertainment value of fiction is a key factor in helping readers get out of their own skin. While it is easy to imagine such a novel in theory, finding one on the bookstore shelves is considerably harder. Novels written with the intent to teach a lesson tend to be unentertaining and uninformative. Novels written with the intent to entertain that crate the space for perspective are rare.

Anyway you look at it, Jonathan Carroll is a rare writer. In tone and tenor, his novels feel like romantic comedies about unusual, mis-matched couples. But the elements that go into his romantic comedies include the stuff of supernatural, fantasy and even science fiction. Everything is stripped down to its purest essence and presented in an off-kilter manner. 'The Ghost in Love' is very funny and very weird, charming and surreal. Dogs talk to ghosts, who are inclined to pay bills, make meals and fall in love. Men and women behave just like everyone you ever knew, only with faster wits and better dialogue. Worlds, both personal and universal end, and yet life goes on, vibrant, exciting, serene.

By all rights, Ben Gold should be dead, but instead, he's alive and dead. The accident that should have killed him didn't, and it created a ghost that has got to contend with an afterlife system that his survival has broken. Ghosts can talk to dogs, who are pretty funny. Ghosts can also cook up storm, and as it were, fall in love with the living. Throw in some strong personalities, living and dead, and these simple elements rapidly spin out of control into a comedic vision of love, life and how our past selves can commandeer our current lives.

Carroll's vision of the supernatural is refreshingly grounded and mundane. He never over-explains. The reader follows the characters as the possibilities of the world are quite straightforwardly expanded. Ghosts and angels exist? Check! Dogs can talk to ghosts? Check! But just as Carroll makes the rules, he breaks them, keeping us intriguingly one step behind what's going on until a snippet of smart dialogue opens up the world. By using the supernatural and elements of the fantastic, Carroll can make the surreal planes of our minds and lives. Ben Gold and his one-time girlfriend, German Landis have gone beyond breaking up; he should have died, but didn't, and in so doing became unstuck in the timeline of his own life. He's headed towards an epic confrontation with the worst possible enemy — himself.

Carroll's plot zigs when you think it will zag and then does an endo when you expect him to hit the straightway; but every nuance is at the characters' whims. The author has managed the very clever feat of creating great, likable characters and then dissecting them into past versions and visions who can duke it out in the theater of the readers' minds. Shot through with wonderful, witty dialogue and chock-a-block with psychological insights that are page-turning plot-points, 'The Ghost in Love' is a constant joy to read. It manages to offer hard-hitting revelations and gut-busting laughs in the same sentences.

'The Ghost in Love' may confound readers who are expecting any single sort of novel — unless they’ve read Carroll's work before. Carroll is an utterly fearless writer who ignores all boundaries and genres in his quest to really explore the nuances of the human soul. He's priceless and peerless precisely because he does so with clarity, wit and a unique imagination. Immersed in the lives of Carroll's characters, we can get a new perspective on our own lives. Whizzing through the tilt-a-whirl plot of 'The Ghost in Love' puts us in the perfect spot to see our own character arc, to speak with our own past selves and on considerably better terms than those offered to Ben Gold. 'The Ghost is Love' is so immersive, so entertaining, so much fun that readers might not realize they’ve come unmoored from the ties that bind. In the quiet moments when you're reading, but not reading, and after you finish the book, you can see yourself. Ask questions. Get answers.

Review Archive
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