I LOVE Jonathan Carroll's books. I love the crazy places his books take me, and the odd people I meet and the way he can be traveling down one path and then so subtly go a different way...while I am still happily going the original direction. When I finally catch on, it's still a delight to backtrack and join him on his new route.
I stumbled upon "A Ghost in Love" in Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA. Little did I know that one of my favorite writers had a new book out (well, I guess not THAT new), but Auntie's would be the place I would find it.
Somehow I held off and didn't start "Ghost" until days later when I was ready to sit down and bit off a big chunk, and then I fell into the world of Ben Gould and German Landis, and Pilot, their dog.
The reader is introduces to German in a perfect way, "Fifteen blocks away, a woman was walking down the street, carrying a large letter `D'." Of course she was. In a Jonathan Carroll book, of course she was. It is explained later, and everything ends up making sense, it's just a wonderful of making sure the reader is paying attention.
"A Ghost in Love" is about love and life and the choices people make in both. It deals with who people are at various stages in their lives and how later, all of those people and choices intersect. Instead of waxing philosophic about two such universal subjects, Carroll creates a world of ghosts, talking dogs and verses...and makes his points with a different slant to them.
"A Chinese farmer invented the idea of ghosts three thousand years ago as a way of explaining to his precious grandson what happens to people after they die. God thought it was such a novel and useful idea that He told his angels to make the concept real and allow it to flourish within the system."
And "German Landis simply didn't understand people who moped. Life was too interesting to choose suffering. Although she got a big kick out of him, she thought her brother, Guy, was goofy for spending his life writing songs only about things that either stank or sucked. In response, he drew a picture of what her gravestone would look like if he designed it: a big yellow smiley face on it and the words I LIKE BEING DEAD!"
Although I keep mentioning the humor and wonderful absurdity that I find in Carroll's books - it's the heart to them that keeps me coming back. He creates characters that I root for and laugh with and start to adore.
"Danielle put a hand flat against her chest. "We're born with everything in here - everything we need to be happy and complete. But as soon as life starts frightening us, we give away pieces of ourselves to make the danger go away. It's a trade: you want life to stop scaring you, so you give it a part of yourself. You give away your pride, your dignity, or your courage...When all you feel is fear, you don't need dignity. So you don't mind giving that away - at the moment. But you regret it later because you'll need all those pieces."
I found such beauty in this book. Even though I was lost at times, many times, it's such a wonderful journey that I didn't care. When by turns, I can read something that makes me laugh out loud and then something that makes me slow down and read again to capture the meaning and beauty of a phrase, then I am enjoying a book to the fullest.
And in this book, there was a part about a childhood object that took me back in time, recovered a memory for me that I'd though I'd lost.
"Usually at least once in a person's childhood we lose an object that at the time is invaluable and irreplaceable to us, although it is worthless to others. Many people remember that article for the rest of their lives...If we describe it to others and explain why it was so important, even those who love us smile indulgently because to them it sounds like a trivial thing to lose. Kid stuff. But it is not. Those who forget about this object have lost a valuable, even crucial memory. Because something central to our younger self resided in that thing. When we lost it, for whatever reason, a part of us shifted permanently."
For me, that object was an ivory (probably fake ivory) bracelet that my dad bought me at a Chinese restaurant. When it broke, I knew something, some part of me, was broken and couldn't stop crying. When I read the passage above, the memory of the delight in having it and the sorrow in losing it came back to me.
That's the power of books. We live lives that are not our own, and in doing so, discover things about ourselves and others that we might never have known, or have forgotten. This idea of forgotten or unknown aspects to ourselves is woven throughout "A Ghost in Love" in a wonderful way. We are the sum of all that we have done...and more than that, we are different things to different people.
"Why do people love us, Ben? We're always trying to figure that out, but only by using our own point of view. That's so limited. Sometimes they love us for things we don't even know about ourselves. For example, they love our hands. My hands? Why would someone love my hands? But they've got their reasons. You must accept that and realize that the Ben they know is different from the Ben you know."
"The Ghost in Love", too, is a book that is different for me than it is for any other person; all books are. The version of it read through my eyes? Wonderful.