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.

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2 thoughts on “Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll – A Book Review

  1. Silas says:

    You must remember however that the narrator of THE LAND OF LAUGHS is untrustworthy; at the end of the story he is obviously insane (or something worse) because he genuinely believes he has brought back his father from the dead to help fight off the bad guys. The story gets progressively more mad as it goes toward the finale. That seems intentional on Carroll’s part and to fault the book because it unwinds in that way is, imho, more than missing the point. It is a tale told by a mad man, signifying hubris to its maddest degree. A brilliant book, hands down.

  2. Hi Silas,

    I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree. I’ll grant you that the narrator may be untrustworthy, but not to the degree you’re suggesting, otherwise the entire book’s premise would be eliminated.

    I believe because [SPOILERS] he did indeed bring France back, Thomas had the power to bring his own father back as well, and that’s why he honored Sax’s memory and began a bio on his father’s life. In my mind, it wasn’t a satisfying ending, but I took it to be a literal one if it is to maintain the “power” Thomas had through the rest of the novel.

    Furthermore, the book really began to lose its attributes (as already stated) in the last third. Even if Thomas were as dereanged as you suggest, I believe the book’s change in direction would have occured earlier, not about the time the truly “fantastic” elements arrived.

    I really appreciate your comment and love debating literature, so I hope you’ll visit me again soon!

    Best wishes to you, Silas.

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