Another Jonathan Carroll review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #21:-
THE MARRIAGE OF STICKS
Gollancz hb, 282pp, £16.99
Carroll’s new novel opens with Miranda Romanac returning to her hometown for a high school reunion in the expectation of meeting up with her childhood sweetheart, but instead she learns that James Stillman died in a car crash some years ago.
Miranda goes back to New York, where she meets the elderly Frances Hatch, one time mistress to great artists, who becomes a personal friend and great influence on her life. Then she starts an affair with a married man, prising Hugh Oakley away from his family. They set up house together, at which point disaster strikes. The supernatural, already presaged by the spectral appearance of James Stillman, takes centre stage and Miranda is forced to embark on a spiritual journey of self-discovery, coming to a painful realisation of her own true nature.
One of Carroll’s great strengths is pacing. While other writers of this type of fiction usually set out their stall early on, Carroll takes the time to build up the characters, to give them depth and make them real to the reader, to plant them in situations that are readily recognisable. For much of the time his books could just as easily pass for mainstream fiction. The effect of this restraint is twofold, in that firstly the supernatural events when they do occur are totally convincing for being so solidly grounded, and secondly that they are all the more startling for being set against such a backdrop of ordinariness. In large part what makes this so effective is the simple elegance of Carroll’s prose, a plain style that is worlds away from the often showy constructions of his peers and makes the job of communication seem effortless.
All these qualities are evident in The Marriage of Sticks, with the result that what could in less accomplished hands have easily lapsed into pseudo-mystical claptrap and parody is instead elevated to the level of profundity, challenging the reader with a subtle investigation of human malleability and presenting a new interpretation of the vampire myth, culminating in an ending that delights with its rightness and ambiguity.