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The Land of Laughs
Jonathan Carroll
Millennium Victor Gollancz, 242 pages


Joe del Tufo
The Land of Laughs
Jonathan Carroll
Jonathan Carroll was born in 1949 in New York. His father was a screenwriter; his mother an actress and lyricist. He attended Rutgers University then the University of Virginia. He became an English teacher, eventually moving to the American International School in Vienna, Austria, in 1974. Carroll still lives in Vienna with his family.

Jonathan Carroll Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Reading List: Jonathan Carroll
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks and Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: The Marriage of Sticks
SF Site Review: Kissing the Beehive
SF Site Review: From The Teeth of Angels

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rodger Turner

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Thomas Abbey is the lonely child of a famous movie actor. Grown up, he's a prep school English teacher who is fascinated by the work of Marshall France, a legendary author of children's books who wrote The Land of Laughs, Green Dog's Sorrow, and other haunting classics. France had retreated from the world and hidden himself away in tiny Galen, Missouri, before dying of a heart attack at age 44. Tom Abbey meets a fellow France aficionado, Saxony Gardner, while browsing a bookstore and finding a rare title he covets but that she's reserved. She's willing to resell it, if Tom lets her read the book first. He mentions a desire to write a France biography and Saxony offers to help by doing research. Thus begins a relationship that is as sweet and tempestuous as one could imagine.

This is the third time I've read The Land of Laughs. It continues to be a marvel of modern fiction for me. The manner in which Jonathan Carroll captures the giddiness of book collecting, the joy in discovering a new title, the jealousy of knowing a copy within reach belongs to someone else all speak to some of my own passions. How does he know this? Maybe he is bedeviled with a similar streak. I can only hope he is. Often, it is difficult for a non-book person to understand let alone appreciate the torment that a love of books and their acquisition inflicts upon a collector. In the past, I was able to point to this book and say read the beginning and you'll see what I go through. Alas, when The Land of Laughs went out of print, my method of explanation was weaker and, for me, the world was a lesser place for it.

Together, Thomas and Saxony decide to write a biography of France and arrive in Galen on a slow, summer day; expectant, delighted, and a little trepidacious of what they might find. To their surprise, the town has been waiting for them. Slowly, they begin to realize that this small Midwest town and its inhabitants, human and animal, are not what they seem. The magic of Marshall France had extended far beyond the printed page.

Thomas and Saxony find that their work is having an influence on the day-to-day affairs of the town. Most people seem to know this, almost as if they knew their own history and what happens to them. Anna, France's daughter, lets them in on a few of the town's secrets and how Tom is affecting their lives. Horrified that he has their fate in his hands, Thomas urges Saxony to leave but she soon returns for she's hopelessly smitten with him. They decide that the best bet is to continue work on the biography to the point where France arrives in Galen. That day a train that doesn't stop in town anymore is welcomed at the station and Thomas realizes that he's got to leave before the town decide they don't need him any more. It is a shivery moment in the book which will remain forever imprinted on my brain. Few scenes I've ever read are more dreadful yet hopeful. One of them happens in the next chapter when the assassin sent by Galen residents confronts Thomas in Austria.

When Ace had the foresight to publish the paperback version of The Land of Laughs, it was the David Mattingly cover that caught my eye. I was a partner in an SF bookstore at the time and the prospect of reading a new author's book was both a thrill and a worry. You never knew whether this one would be a keeper. The Land of Laughs was and we went into overdrive trying to find HC copies. Sometime later, the book was dropped from the catalogue and we asked the book rep who sold us their titles what was going on since being delisted usually meant that a title was going out-of-print. He said they had a few boxes in the warehouse and we promptly bought them all. From that point on, The Land of Laughs was sold for a couple of years with a money-back guarantee -- if they could tell us why they didn't like it, we'd refund the purchase. I don't recall that we ever did. It was one of the few titles that ever got such a guarantee.

If you ever read another book in your life, it should be The Land of Laughs.

Copyright © 2001 Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time."


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