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Onyx reviews: White Apples by Jonathan Carroll

Vincent Ettrich is an unlikely character to be cast as the father of a future savior of the universe. He's a successful advertising executive and a playful rogue with an unmanageable weakness for women. ("Vincent's eyes were the most voracious part of his body.") Divorced from his wife Kitty, Vincent has enjoyed a tempestuous relationship with beautiful Isabelle Neukor. Isabelle has a habit of abandoning Vincent absolutely for months on end, refusing all contact.

During one of these prolonged absences Vincent spies a mystical and intriguing woman through the window of a lingerie shop he passes every day on his way to work. He plies her with his charm and wins her over. The first clue that something surreal is transpiring occurs when Vincent learns the woman's name: Coco Hallis. As it happens, he already has a friend with that rather unique name.

During their first dinner, Vincent encounters his colleague, Bruno Mann, who he hasn't seen for several weeks and who seems surprised to see him. Interrupted by a cell phone call from his ex-wife, Vincent learns that Bruno is dead. Shaken, Vincent experiences time dilation. When he comes out of his trance, he is in bed at his apartment with Coco, who he has known for months. He discovers Bruno Mann's name tattooed on her neck. These are the types of surreal incidents readers of Jonathan Carroll's fantasies have grown to accept. Time is not a linear dimension in his books and characters are often free (or cursed) to slip back and forth through their lives.

This is when Vincent recalls having succumbed to cancer some weeks earlier, guided by Coco's carefully phrased questions. She explains that he has been brought back to perform a single, crucial function. Isabelle, his estranged lover, is pregnant with his unborn son, Anjo, who is destined to play a central role in a vast cosmic plan. For Anjo to succeed, he needs the support of both his parents. In particular Anjo needs the knowledge Vincent supposedly acquired through his death. Vincent, however, has no remaining memory of that knowledge, and no idea what to teach his son. And he is, without question, still dead - he has no pulse.

The ever-changing mosaic that comprises life and, perhaps, God, provides Vincent with some support on his quest to rediscover what he learned in death, but there are also agents of chaos determined to see him fail. Vincent wanders through White Apples mostly in a confused daze as events as large as the universe itself unfold. He learns, for example, that Anjo, his fetal son, is sentient and communicates with Isabelle and sometimes manifests himself as a dog. He encounters such delightful conceits as water sandwiches and frog ballets.

To make the story seem any less mystifying would require the length of the book itself. Suffice to say that White Apples is an experience and a dreamlike voyage where readers' notions of reality are stretched and pushed to the limits. The section in which characters expound on the mosaic theory of the universe, a notion Carroll has been developing gradually through several of his recent novels, may leave some readers feeling like they've fallen through their own personal rabbit hole into Wonderland. At its heart, though, White Apples is a touching and earnest love story but it is also a humorous if occasionally dark frolic.

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