An ambitious retelling of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, with a little Judeo-Christian mythology and a smattering of popular culture mythos thrown in, make Carroll's latest a delicious dish—one that's lighter and better plotted than his White Apples (2002). A group of 30-something Americans living in Vienna (where Carroll himself resides), find themselves caught in the middle of a battle between God (a giant polar bear named Bob, or possibly a mosaic) and Chaos (most often John Flannery, a rapacious sex demon—when he's not just raw ectoplasm inhabiting a leather sofa). The McGuffin is Anjo, the unborn baby of Isabelle Neukor. In a reverse Orpheus, Isabelle has already crossed the border between life and death to retrieve the deceased Vincent Ettrich, Anjo's father. As the contest for Isabelle's child heats up, more and more characters—some good, some evil, but most indifferent—are drawn into the fray, while the world, both real and unreal, living and dead, constantly blends, shifts and changes dimension. In-jokes abound, as do barbs thrown at George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger, rap music, Austrian traffic problems and even chocolate pudding. This is a marvelous comic feast, but logic, consistency and plausibility are not on the menu.
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Prolific and imaginative, Carroll writes delectable novels that combine riddle-like metaphysics with Magritte-like surrealism and romantic fantasy. In his latest cosmic Vienna-based tale, he echoes Hermann Hesse and Steven Millhauser as he picks up the story of the passionate lovers Vincent and Isabelle, who starred in White Apples (2002). In spite of this connection, readers new to Carroll's magic need not hesitate. They won't be anywhere near as confused as Simon, a blatant womanizer who finds himself confronting an octopus driving a bus, a tiny yet dapper and bossy fellow named Broximon, and God in the form of a polar bear. Elsewhere, a shape-shifting villain has evil designs on Isabelle's two closest friends, and Chaos, a malevolent force, grows ever more destructive. Pregnant with a child crucial to the battle between order and chaos, Isabelle must stay safe, yet there seems to be little Vincent can do to protect her. Carroll's clever and spellbinding tale offers fans and newcomers alike startling perspectives on time and reality, an afterlife made of dreams, a glimmering vision of the divine, and a sweet tribute to love. Donna Seaman
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