“Reading a book, for me at least, is like traveling in someone else’s world. If it’s a good book, then you feel comfortable and yet anxious to see what’s going to happen to you there, what’ll be around the next corner. But if it’s a lousy book, then it’s like going through Secaucus, New Jersey—it smells and you wish you weren’t there, but since you’ve started the trip, you roll up the windows and breathe through your mouth until you’re done.”
I begin this review with that passage from an early part of The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. For the readers who have read my reviews over the past year and a half should know Jonathan Carroll has become one of my favorite novelists. This is the fourth Carroll novel I have reviewed in the same time frame and the first sentence in the aforementioned passage sums up how I feel each time I have read one of his novels.
The Land of Laughs tells of Thomas Abbey, a teacher and son of a famous film star, who gets the chance to write the biography of his favorite children’s book author, Marshall France. Abbey is a zealous fan of the author and jumps at the opportunity to write a biography about him.
Abbey travels to France’s hometown in Galen, Missouri, a small Midwestern town where the author is still the most famous person even years after his death. Everybody in town has a Marshall France story and want to help Abbey with his biography.
So it seems.
Abbey meets Marshall France’s daughter, Anna, who is highly protective of her father’s works and legacy and is unsure about the schoolteacher’s intent with the biography. Also, Thomas has a companion, Saxony Gardner, who travels with him to Galen and has her own role with the schoolteacher and biography.
This volatile mix as well as Abbey dealing with issues surrounding his father come together in a fascinating and surrealist picture about the power of creativity and imagination. Can the imagination recreate life? Can a writer (or any creative person) become a God to the world they have created in their stories?
Those questions kept coming to mind as I read The Land of Laughs. Carroll gives an interesting perspective in relation those questions and something to ponder on for a while. However, I will admit that the ending of the novel was a let down. The ending pulls the story together, but it felt abrupt and somewhat out-of-the blue for the story he was telling.
The Land of Laughs is Jonathan Carroll’s most well-known novel and I can see why for a lot of reasons. I’m glad I read it and continues to add to my growing appreciation of this unique and interesting author. But, I will rank it below my favorite Carroll novel, The Wooden Sea, and White Apples.