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review 2016-01-25 01:40
White Apples by Jonathan Carroll
White Apples - Jonathan Carroll

I have spent the last several weeks reading three novels from Jonathan Carroll.  This review of White Apples is the first of the Carroll novels I’ve read.  I had never heard of Jonathan Carroll before reading this post from Neil Gaiman about him.  Besides Gaiman, he has been endorsed by novelists as diverse as Stephen King to Pat Conroy to Katherine Dunn. Because of his reputation as a favorite of writers, I’ve decided to to check him out. I’m probably late to this party, but I’m glad to have discover the unique fiction of Jonathan Carroll.


White Apples is the story of Vincent Ettrich, a womanizer, who has died and been brought back to life.  He has no idea why that has happened to him or memories of the experience.  Eventually, Ettrich finds out he has been brought back to life by his former lover, Isabelle.  Isabelle is pregnant and the child she is carrying has an essential role in saying the universe.   However, Vincent can not remember what happened to him on the other side of life and the child needs to learn from him about that experience.


Carroll does an excellent job in taking a soap opera or telenovela type of love story and turning into a metaphysical, surreal work of fiction.  White Apples is surprisingly spiritual, thoughtful, and weird at the same time.  Carroll’s lucid prose grabbed me from the opening pages and kept me engaged until the end of the novel.  White Apples is one of my favorite reads of 2015 and Jonathan Carroll has become an author on my must read list.

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review 2003-01-01 00:00
White Apples
White Apples - Jonathan Carroll What a crazy ride of a book! Vincent Ettrich is an unrelenting womanizer who wakes to discover that he has died and has been reborn. But for what reason? With the help of vivacious guardian angels and helpful unborn children, Ettrich learns Chaos has found the joys of consciousness and refuses to give these up, with devastating potential consequences for the world. Definitely an Odd Duck!
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review 2002-12-12 00:00
White Apples
White Apples - Jonathan Carroll White Apples is the beginning of a new trilogy from Carroll, and with new beginnings he's decided to modify his modus operandi from previous novels. To start with, gone is the first-person, unreliable male narrator; in its place is a third-person omniscient voice that is both strangly familiar and disconcerting. I hesitate to call it Carroll's true voice, because he's shown in previous novels that he can take on differing personas convincingly, and the voice is still filtered here through the impressions of the characters. However, instead of only getting into the thoughts of the primary character lost in Carroll's latest version of Wonderland, this time you get to understand the motivations of three: the male lead, Vincent Ettrich, "a genial philanderer" (as the dust jacket copy labels him); Isabelle, his true love; and Coco Hallis, his guardian angel.

That's the other thing that's different about this new novel. Most of Carroll's novels have something strange and weird about them--the common way I introduce his work to people is to say that it would be labeled magic realism if his last name had been of the Spanish origin. Before White Apples, however, the typical Carroll started off in a world much like our own and only started to look weird halfway through the book when the dog sleeping on the bed starts talking or two characters realize that they share the same dreamworld. In this new novel, Carroll drops us down the rabbit hole in the first chapter when we learn that Vincent is actually dead. Or has died, and now is back, but not in the sense that he was legally dead and the paramedics restarted his heart, but in the Monty Python sense of he had kicked the bucket and was pushing up daisies, and now he's walking his old haunts. No one knows the difference, except for his friend Bruno Mann, but that's because Bruno's dead himself.

It only gets weirder from that.

Carroll's strength is never in the weirdnesses, although every one of his books contains a major element of the fantastic. Instead, Carroll's best writing centers around those integral and important details that make up characters and relationships. I consider the first third of Bones of the Moon to be the best love story I've ever read and think it would have not been out of place had it appeared in The New Yorker. There's no fantasy anywhere in it, either, except the wonder that such a love could ever grow between two people. In White Apples, the reader never gets to see those important details between Vincent and Isabelle, and must instead learn about their character and relationship from the things they tell each other and awkward flackback sequences. In the world of creative writing workshops, we would consider this "telling, and not showing," except that Carroll's an accomplished storyteller and doesn't linger on the telling for that long. If this is your first taste of Carroll, you might not even notice it, but for those fans, it provides enough of a twist to the tale that it is every bit as off-putting as the Twilight Zone cliffhangers at the end of each chapter here.

I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like this book. I read it with the same fervor that I reserve for only a few authors (Carroll, Pat Cadigan, Iain M. Banks, and, recently, J.K. Rowling). But something nagged at me constantly, and I think it was the assumption that the relationship between Vincent and Isabelle was love, beautiful and strong. My suspension of disbelief didn't have any trouble with Vincent back from the dead, but I could never get over the precious way that Vincent and Isabelle reflected on their past. It was like listening to a couple baby-talk with each other thinking that you would hear their words as endearing and not sophomoric.

This is supposedly the first book of a Joyce Cary-like trilogy, where this was from the viewpoint of the man, the next will be from the viewpoint of a woman, and the third from a child. Having heard Carroll read the first chapter of the new book during his recent U.S. tour, I'm already excited by it, and it should be interesting to see how well he gets into the female viewpoint--the sections in White Apples give us a just a taste of that. That first chapter is weirder than anything in this book, and perhaps that is what Carroll is heading to: a book that shows us normal is really the fantasy, the fantastic.
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