Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll – A Book Review

Land of Laughs was actually recommended to me based on my love of Paul Auster by someone I’ve never met.  Though I was totally unfamiliar with Jonathan Carroll, I’m always on the hunt for new (to me) authors, so I figured I’d give him a shot!

Land of Laughs is about a man named Thomas Abbey, a bored English teacher and son of a famous deceased actor.  He decides to take some time off work to write a biography on his favorite children’s author, Marshall France.  After meeting a woman named Saxony Garder-another France fan-Thomas and Sax go to Galen, Missouri, to visit France’s home and supposedly uncooperative daughter, Anna.  Thomas is amazed when Anna is both cordial and encouraging with the biography, but she has her own agenda, one that involves incredible secrets about the citizenry of Galen and Marshall France himself!

Carroll wrote a fast-paced, deeply engaging novel for the first two-thirds of the book.  His characterization was both realistic and mesmerizing.  I saw so much of myself in Thomas, and I think many of you would as well.  I assume Thomas’ “everyman” appeal is by design.  Saxony, an unlikable character at first, slowly grows on us as Carroll expertly peels layer after layer from her.  Anna is mysterious and charismatic, and we can’t help but be drawn to her.  Carroll’s solid narrative and dialogue refused allowing me to put the book down, for I couldn’t resist the story of these three characters!

Then things get weird, and that’s quite a statement from someone like me.

I can handle the fantasy element of the book, no problem.  What bothered me, though, was Carroll’s total departure from what made the first two-thirds of the book so utterly wonderful.  He turns his back on all the nuance and care that won me over and propels the plot front and center at the expense of those characters into which he put such thought.  The last third of the book becomes all about the “big finale,” a finale that left me unimpressed and unsatisfied. 

I enjoy fantasy, especially when it looks to be handled with such literary precision, but Carroll disappointed me when he abandoned those aspects of his writing that could have made me a life-long fan.  I do recommend Land of Laughs for the touching and thought-provoking first two-thirds because it really is the work of a very talented man.  The last third, well, you might as well finish it at that point and formulate your own opinion on the matter.