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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Wooden Sea: A Novel
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on August 1, 2003
This is the best JC novel yet for me. Bones of the Moon had been my former favorite(and first by JC for me). I have always found his prose entertaining and fast. Dean Koontz's writing has a similar comfortable voice that moves along. His books are shorter and more terse than most writers. His prose isn't flowery. I find his romantic inclusions in his stories to be entertaining, real, not gushy.
Top of my list in this book is that Frannie McCabe is a great character. He is memorable, very real, distinct, likable. His talk and attitude actually made me laugh out loud at some quips--something books never manage to do for me--despite loving comedy in movies and tv.
I have read about 5 of JC's books and with this book I realized that he is not merely reusing people or place names from book to book but that there is some story building...a pantheon of characters and places. There is a larger story being told through many novels.
Despite playing with a concept (I will not reveal) that I feel has been used to death, especially in SciFi, I still enjoyed the treatment. I was worried at one point that it would just be another of those stories. I was only disappointed the that book ended... I wanted more.
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on January 11, 2003
I can sum up "The Wooden Sea", by Jonathan Carroll, in one, quick statement: Absolutely the best book that I have ever read. Through all 300 odd pages I was as intrigued, compelled, and astounded as I was when I first began the story at a Borders cafe.
To begin with, I hadn't read a Jon Carroll book in a long time and upon seeing advertisements for his North American tour--posted on Neil Gaiman's (another favorite author! read him!) online journal--imediately began reminiscing about his older books. Since I am only fifteen years old, and he was not coming to my town, I gave my sister a ring--whose city would house Mr. Carroll for one evening--and politely asked her if she could get me an autograph of his latest book. Of course, being a good sister, she complied and on November 14 got my copy of "White Apples" signed.
Knowing I had a book signed by him, my interest in Jonathan Carroll was renewed doubly. And on one of my usual bookstore visits, I came across "The Wooden Sea". I decided to give it a read over a cup of coffee. Though the coffee I had ordered tasted unusualy delicious, it surely was not as delicious as the book I had begun to read. Jonathan draws you so tightly into this story and all the characters that I felt that I was Frannie McCabe--the main character-- and that I was experiencing all the uncanny madness that he was. Jonathan also does such an incredible job of making this fantastical story--which some authors could not--believable.
Reading this book is like staring at a Salvidor Dali painting. The scene is so surreal and flat out strange that you know none of this could ever happen, but Jonathan succeeds enormously in making you, in the far reaches of the back of your mind, ask: What if?
This is my favorite book of all time and I will treasure the magic that Jonathan Carroll has given me til the day they lock shut my coffin. I HIGHLY reccomend "The Wooden Sea"--along with the almost-equally good "White Apples"--to anyone who knows how to read. You won't regret reading this book.
-Dave
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on December 27, 2002
Jonathan Carroll has written a world fantasy award nominee in his book The Wooden Sea. I have read such announcements about it, and I have read it. In the Wooden Sea, his hero is a small town Sheriff named Frannie. Frannie is a guy with a past that is tied to the central locale depicted in TWS. He has a wife and a stepdaughter. Early in the book, inexplicable happenings set up the fantasy in the story, and for a good part of the book, Frannie is trying to unravel this fantastic mystery. And the story works incredibly well as such. I think many readers will enjoy the story until the mystery is resolved well before the end of the book. When it does, however, Carroll chooses to bulldog his way through, making his points as he has intended, regardless of anyone's opinion. I loved this book all the way through to the end, and to me Carroll seems to be making these points: In The Wooden Sea, people themselves are alien and can only understand themselves in hindsight, and that outsiders cannot hope to understand anyone in particular. This seems plain to me when Frannie is asked to save humanity, with he himself a member of it.
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on June 20, 2002
"How do you row a boat on a wooden sea?"
Well, for anyone who has ever meditated on koan, this book comes very close to mirroring what happens to the ego as it wrestles with such a question. The book starts innocently enough but then begins its descent into a weird universe as the main character flips back and forth through time trying to answer a question.
The characters are certainly not 'normal' in any sense of the word - think PK Dick or perhaps J Lethem - and the situations are certainly run-of-the-mill. But the questions Carroll is trying to wrestle with are not easily asked, let alone trying to come up with answers. Starting from a quite mundane state the main character, McCabe, begins his descent into weirdness that culminates with time-traveling aliens.
Carroll always treads a razor-like line between the mundane and the weird, much like Murakami. I still prefer Murakami's stylistic touches, or perhaps I should say, lack of stylistic touches. That is, Carroll appears much less neutral in his role as storyteller than Murakami. Both writers certainly seem to share a fascination with what is always lurking below apparently bland surfaces.
It would appear to me that Carroll is trying to allude to some sort of involvement in an Eastern tradition such as Zen. Certainly his novels have a strong current of mysticism and strong warnings about tempering the ego's drive.
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on August 10, 2001
I bought this book after hearing a reference to it on an NPR show about "Summer Reading" lists. The person recommending it read a passage from early on -- I think it was a description of the dog Old Vertue -- which struck a chord with me. I thought anything that starts out this odd must get odder and be quite fun in the process. I was right.
But I didn't expect to be as sucked in as I was to the story and its various turns and bizarre events. I could not put this book down.. and as soon as I finished reading it I started it again. After the first read I was left with questions -- I think I took some of the more fantastic elements of the plot a bit literally -- the answers to which become more apparent on the second read -- which I approached in terms of looking at the life of Frannie McCabe, much as the first reviewer suggested. But dont see this as a reason NOT to dive into The Wooden Sea. It was well worth the journey!
The writing style is a joy: very conversational with a pearl that made me smile every few pages and at least one stunner per chapter. Carroll made me care about these people and I plan to buy his others books as soon as I finish writing this review!
And I liked the idea that seemingly odd things would occur that I did not expect -- life throws us wingers every day, okay maybe not as strange as those in the book, but I appreciate the wonder he presents the reader. Its a small book that tells a fun story and packs a lot in besides that if you care to investigate. The notion of our various "selves" at different ages being present to help us out of jams and to consult with about life's problems is a provacative one. Carroll is an author to keep an eye on, no doubt. Read this, again and again.
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on March 5, 2001
Like The Marriage of Sticks, The Wooden Sea takes place in the fictional town of Crane's View (which sounds suspiciously like a Western Westchester town like Hastings on Hudson or Ossining). This tale is told through the eyes of the chief of police who during his morning routine suddenly finds strange things happening to him in the town: childhood smells pop up from nowhere, a 3 legged pit bull, a beautiful feather and a bone to name a few. As it turns out, our chief was a hell-raiser as a child, a detail that becomes important as we start to meet different version of his character at different ages. I like the almost Platonic philosophical bent of the latter half of the book - as usual in Carroll's books, we rove through time zones, other realities, and a plot that resists summary. I find this one of his "deeper" books - a kind of Unified Particle Theory view of the world. Now that I found the reissue of his first book, the Land of Laughs, I can say that I've finished all of Carroll's books. The Wooden Sea is definitely one of his better books, although fans should read them all. And buy yourself a hardcover copy because they go out of print fast! Carroll remains one of my all time favorite authors and if you haven't had a chance to try him, don't wait any longer.
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on February 21, 2001
If you have never picked up a Carroll book because the terms "fantasy" or "science fiction" scare you, or because you are convinced that "that kind of writing" isn't for you, I urge you to move past the stereotype and give THE WOODEN SEA a chance. Carroll is an amazing novelist, severly underappreciated in this country. Since his first novel, THE LAND OF LAUGHS, he has been introducing his readers to characters who have heart, soul, a sense of wonder, and a sense of humor. His latest work is no exception. Frannie McCabe, Police Chief of Crane's View, is content and happy... until such time as he buries a dead dog only to find that it continues to come back to life. While trying to understand why, McCabe meets past and future versions of himself, is forced to make decisions that will affect those people he cares the deepest about, and searches for answers to questions that we all ask at some point in our lives: "What is life really all about? Are we alone here, or is there some higher power influencing who we are? What is death? And does any of it matter in the end? Carroll leads his readers down a mystical and imaginative path that could only be better if it never had to end. He continues to be one of my favorite authors and his latest work does not disappoint. It is no wonder that authors like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Stanislaw Lem continue to sing the praises of Jonathan Carroll.
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on February 18, 2001
I have been a big Carroll fan for about a year now, and have finally acquired all his books save one. So when I found out I could get a proof copy of this book online, I immediatley ordered it, and I think it's wonderful. I read it in one day, couldn't resist, even though I wanted to make the enjoyment last longer. if you've never read Jonathan Carroll, this book is a good introduction. If you have, I don't think you'll be disappointed. And as a side note in response to another review here, I did not notice any excessive vulgarity, and I cannot imagine why christian integrity would be relevant when writing about characters that aren't all Christian - or should I just say that if diversity offends you, perhaps Jonathan Carroll isn't for you at all. Anyone else would probably enjoy his books very much.
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on February 4, 2001
The question lies at the heart of Jonathan Carroll's latest flight of fancy, the aptly named Wooden Sea. Look,let's make this simple. There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who know Carroll is one of the most elegant fantasists writing today, and those who haven't read him yet. His latest "brings back" Frannie McCabe, Chief of Police of Crane's View. I put "brings back" in quotes because those who have met him in previous Carroll works will find they never knew him at all. But then, the only thing consistent in a Carroll story is the complete confidence one can have in knowing one cannot have complete confidence in knowing anything. Read this book and laugh, read this book and cry, read this book and marvel. Or, to put it another way, Read this book!
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on February 5, 2001
To paraphrase Neil Gaiman's back cover blurb, a new book by Jonathan Carroll is a cause for celebration indeed. It's difficult to choose favorite Carroll novels because they're all wonderful, unique and delightfully strange. THE WOODEN SEA showcases him in a decidedly more playful mood that in recent years. I don't want to spoil the wigged out plot and its delicious twists, suffice to say that it's a heck of a fun, oddball romp. If the name "Floon" appeals to your sense of absurdity, you'll dig this. It's a crime against letters that many of Carroll's books are out of print as they're all gems. Go out, buy THE WOODEN SEA and if you like it, you'll be haunting used bookstores for years to come, seeking out Carroll's other strange and shiney concoctions...
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