book report: David Schickler; Kissing in Manhattan

15 January 2007, 8:11 pm

I’ve tried several times, unsuccessfully, to write about the fiction of Jonathan Carroll. It’s even difficult to articulate why it’s so difficult for me to write about Carroll. I’ve studied his technique and themes enough to learn something about them, but those easily-isolated surface attributes don’t explain Carroll’s bewitching power. This book — something less than a novel, but more than a set of linked short stories — provides a clue, because it uses many of Carroll’s characteristic tricks. The fantastic and surreal intrudes into the everyday, the emotional core of characters drives the story more aggressively than the plot does, and the narrative voice is often capriciously omniscient:

It was ten minutes till five on a Thursday. Donna and Lee’s office was on the twenty-first floor. It had a bay window facing south, and just before five every evening, Donna and Lee stood at this window and looked at the sunlight on the rivers. Lee, who was a lesbian, loved the East River best. Donna loved the Hudson.

One of the problems I’ve had in writing about Carroll’s books is that they’re excessively trivialized by reducing them to capsule descriptions: they wind up sounding silly. But they don’t feel silly while I’m reading them; they’re often deeply affecting, even when they contain outlandish events. I can’t explain it clearly, but the supernatural and surreal elements of Carroll’s fiction seem to obey an internal logic that gives them resonance. It doesn’t matter whether this logic is obvious to the reader or not; its presence is felt nonetheless.

I didn’t get this sense from Schickler’s work; the fantastic elements, as when a lonely young man stumbles upon a strange figure surrounded by gem stones in the basement of a sex shop, seem awkward and unconvincing. If it sounds a bit silly, I thought it was. This particular event propels the narrative and is close to the book’s thematic heart, but it doesn’t make any sense, nor does it make nonsense in a way I found compelling.

A further peeve: several of Schickler’s characters are high-powered attorneys, whom he writes about it in a way that suggests strongly to me that he’s never met one.

Needs More Demons? I dunno, but it needs more something.

2 comments on “book report: David Schickler; Kissing in Manhattan”

  1. Ethan

    In case you haven’t discovered it yet, Jonathan Carroll writes a sublime daily blog on his website It is so good that I read it every day like the newspaper.


  2. Terri

    His blog looks interesting. And… I gotta do it–

    You have been tagged, Mr. Villain! See the shy turnip for info.


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