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Child Across the Sky Hardcover – July 1, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Just as the the word "weird" has many implications and shades of meaning, so too does the latest--weird--work by this gifted and perplexing writer. As Carroll ( Bones of the Moon ; Sleeping in Flame ) himself says, "Life has a habit of turning dark corners." Applied here, this observation seems an understatement: these convoluted corners are both light and dark, are many, varied and constantly challenging. Flashing back and forth in time, the story concerns the apparent suicide of filmmaker Philip Strayhorn, whose bizarre Midnight series has attained cult status. Strayhorn's best friend, Weber Gregston, a filmmaker with a more intellectual bent, is drawn into a dizzying series of events by a videotape that Philip leaves him. The wickedly imaginative twists and turns that follow are only one facet of this intriguing tale, which seems at times like a framework on which to hang a myriad of metaphysical notions. What, for instance, is one to make of a tattoo of a crow that comes alive in an airplane lavatory? Carroll's style is elegant; his writing is by turns disturbing, fey, sardonic, grim--frequently within a single paragraph. The unexpected lies at the heart of this novel, and readers seeking a provocative and stimulating--though not always easy--read will be rewarded.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Whatever, it took an hour of hard walking in the blue lead cold of a New York December for me to really hold in the palm of my mind the fact my best and oldest friend was dead."
And speaking of being dead...
"There is a life review, of course, but it was so much more interesting than I had ever imagined. For one thing, they show you how and where your life really happened. Things you didn't experience or weren't ever aware of, but which dyed the fabric of your life its final color."
And as always, his take on life speaks right to mine: "What more American tradition is there than the turnpike rest stop? I don't mean those Mom and Pop pretty-good-food one-shot places somewhere off the interstate that sell homemade pralines. I'm talking about a quarter-mile lean on the steering wheel that curves you into the parking lot the size of a parade ground, fourteen gas tanks, toilets galore and Muzak. The food can be pretty good or pretty bad, but it's the high torque ambiance of the places that make them so interesting, the fact that no one is really there - only appetites or bladders, while eyes stare longingly out the window at the traffic."
Only appetites or bladders, indeed.
And I think I will end with this, because Carroll has a way, in nearly every book, at getting the reader to examine his or her own life as the characters do...looking back over the small pieces and huge events that shape who we are. The huge events are easy to remember, but sometimes it's the small pieces that give life its flavor.
"No matter how old or jaded you are there will always be something exciting and cool about cruising around at three in the morning with a bunch of good friends. All the old duds are asleep but you're still awake, the windows are down, the radio's glowing green and playing great music. Life's given you a few extra hours to horse around. If you don't grab them, they aren't usually offered again for a while."
See? So I honestly don't know why I couldn't sink into his words, his world. He creates characters that life the truest of lives in the most fantastical of circumstances. I can't point to anything in particular that caused my interest to wander.
I love Jonathan Carroll and his books...and I look forward to my next trip to his world.
Carroll sets up wonderful scenes, characters, ideas, concepts, and philosophical arguments, then he seems to grow bored and walk away. So many threads are woven into the tapestry of "A Child Across the Sky" that midway through, the color, life and texture of the story hold you captive; you fly through the chapters needing to know more. But more is never what Carroll provides -- he drops those threads and you're left hanging.
As someone who typically enjoys ambiguity in literature, I embrace most tales that do this successfully; but Carroll so consistently withholds from the reader any sense of resolution or answers that it feels almost punitive at times. My first Carroll novel was "The Wooden Sea" and as much as I loved that book, when I came to the end I felt let down. I felt similarly at the end of this novel.
So many brilliant ideas are introduced but never reach fruition. So many interesting characters enter the novel but have little to do and then are shunted aside. Often, Carroll will stick in a random moment to make a point or get some vital information across; in the hands of less talented writers, this would be regarded as an info dump, but Carroll makes it work -- yet it only works so far.
When I invest my time in a book and the ending is more of a collapse than a culmination, I feel shortchanged. That's how I felt at the end of this novel. Carroll has talent, but either lacks the discipline to follow through in a way that would produce a truly great work of writing, or believes that many fine small moments will make up for the absence of a cohesive plot.
The premise is engaging and the book jacket blurb draws you in, but it's telling that in that blurb on the first edition hardcover even the publisher can't get the main character's name right (it appears as Weber Greston instead of Weber Gregston). This lack of care is frankly appalling, but it's not surprising. There's a hole in this book that leaves me wanting more, but not in a good, satisfying way.