Sleeping in FlameSleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

man it’s painful when a book starts out so good, and ends so… dumb.

ya, i know, that’s harsh. and i don’t like to be harsh, ’cause i know how hard it is just to write any frickin’ book in the first place, let alone a good one. but the book is marvelously wonderful, until the dumb, dumb ending, and that kind of disappointment hurts.

Carroll gets some stratospherically high praise for his writing, both in the blurbs and in reviews. the one on the cover of this book says he “is a cult waiting to be born, a novelist of rare and terrifying power” (Pat Conroy). and he is! he is amazingly good at so many things.

his characterizations are enough to make a fellow writer swoon. his plots are tight and hole-free. his dialogue is interesting and not only suits but illuminates each character. places are visual; there are smells and sounds; we even get a long, lovely sunset or two.

and the story is one of those quasi-horror things that sort of turn the world sideways when you don’t expect it, in ways you could not have predicted.

he even does that lovely thing that literary fiction writers are supposed to do: packs a paragraph with gently-placed observations on What It Is to Be Human (which is ultimately what a lot of people actually read for, including me).

so what am i bitching about?

the ending! dammit! i really felt like he got tired just about the time his protagonist flits to LA to meet a guru. the guru sits on a peak; after that, the book’s all downhill. people become cardboard, events predictable, tropes abound.

i was terribly excited when i started this book. i thought, wow, i’ve found an author with a whole body of work i’ve not read, and he is really, really good. but this volume goes in the sell-it-to-the-used-bookstore bag, and i will be chary of buying another of his. i don’t know, maybe this book was just his equivalent of a bad day and all his others are incandescent rocketships. but this one will leave you grrrrrr.

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