Jonathan Carroll,
The Marriage of Sticks
(Tor, 1999)

Jonathan Carroll is known for quirky, original yet ordinary characters who find themselves in extraordinary and often transforming circumstances. They encounter dreams and visions and move through worlds within worlds, often without warning. To read a novel by Jonathan Carroll is to surrender anything one holds true to a willingness to be open to myriad possibilities. The Marriage of Sticks, Carroll's first novel for Tor, is no exception.

Miranda Romanac is a successful rare book dealer based in Manhattan, fortunate in that she has found work which she loves and at which she excels. She attends her fifteenth high school reunion with her best friend Zoe, hoping to reconnect with her high school sweetheart. Instead, she learns something which starts the slow unraveling of the existence she has so carefully constructed for herself. Although the information she receives has a heavy impact, Miranda doesn't realize how drastically her life will change.

At a dinner party, she meets Hugh Oakley, an art expert, charming, witty, and married. When Miranda consults with him on a professional matter, she finds that she is more than merely attracted to him and that the attraction is mutual. They enter into an affair and fall in love, and Hugh leaves his wife and children to be with Miranda. It is Hugh who tells Miranda about the marriage of sticks, where you write significant events and their dates on whatever stick is available and keep them, culling every so often until you are left with the most important ones. At the end of your life, when you think you don't have much time left, you burn them, making them into one.

One of Miranda's clients, an eccentric old woman named Frances Hatch, gives Miranda a house she owns in Crane's View, a small town on the Hudson River. (Crane's View is also the setting for Carroll's previous novel Kissing the Beehive.) Miranda and Hugh accept the house, but early on, both experience intensely realistic visions. Miranda is particularly affected as she experiences a steadily increasing stream of visions and ghosts. They are related directly to her and lead her to making the single most important decision of her life.

Carroll is a master at developing a story; everything counts. At the same time, the reader never sees the handiwork behind the scenes. The tale unfolds effortlessly, with every detail in its place as he deftly and subtly increases the suspense, and the threads of the characters lives fit together in a taut and brilliant tapestry, where the incongruous meets the ordinary and both are transformed. After reading this book, you may find yourself looking at everyday mundane events in a completely different way.

The Marriage of Sticks will not disappoint Carroll's loyal readers and may garner him new ones. He certainly deserves them.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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