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Onyx reviews: Glass Soup by Jonathan Carroll

Jonathan Carroll has been developing a theory of the nature of cosmic reality in his most recent novels, The Wooden Sea and White Apples. He suggests that people who die advance to a realm constructed of elements from every important dream they've ever had. After a person realizes he's dead-which takes longer for some than others-he must figure out why these dreams were important and come to terms with their implications. First the benign, surreal dreams. Then the nightmares. Eventually he evolves to a point where he becomes a tile in the great mosaic of existence. When the mosaic is complete, it undergoes a big-bang-like explosion and everything starts over-but each time the mosaic is formed differently.

Because much of the Glass Soup is set in dream worlds-like something out of Alice Through the Looking Glass, the work of a different Carroll-expect the unexpected. The logic of normal reality does not apply. Three characters are chased by a space alien, a Komodo dragon and George W. Bush. Another character conjures up a literal Highway to Hell in which every vehicle is a version of one of the cars she owned in her lifetime. In one of Simon Haden's recurring dreams-one it takes him a long time to solve-he's a tour guide aboard a bus driven by an octopus populated by regular people, cartoon characters, a cassowary and an animate bag of caramels.

His version of God is a white polar bear named Bob.

As in The Wooden Sea, Carroll also explores the notion that every person exists in multiple versions. In that novel, a man wanders through his life, meeting himself at different ages. The teenage version of himself and the man he has become are almost unrecognizable to each other. In Glass Soup, There are different Simon Hadens, according to the people who know him, some more likeable than others, and yet all integral parts of him. His shape in the mosaic changes as he does.

Chaos is part of existence, but until now it was only a random force, like the weather. However, Chaos has become self-aware and intelligent. One character describes the situation to how it would be if weather could think. "Imagine if lightning decided it didn't like you . . . It would come looking for you and hurt you every chance it got." Chaos-who sometimes appears in human form as an undistinguished man named John Flannery who is unaccountably irresistible to women-is pleased with its state of evolution and doesn't want this current from of the mosaic of existence to become complete. To that end, it deliberately disrupts the lives of certain people who can thwart it. If he can transform people into Chaos, they abandon their places in the mosaic and nothing else fits there.

Its two primary targets are Vincent Ettrich and his lover, Isabelle Neukor, who live in Carroll's Vienna. At the beginning of White Apples, Vincent died but was snatched from the realm of the dead by Isabelle, who is now pregnant with Anjo, their son, who could help stop Chaos.

Because of Isabelle's actions, she and Vincent have a special relationship with the living and the dead. They understand the nature of existence and know about Chaos's scheme. Together they have incredible power, but if Chaos can trap one or both of them in the land of the dead, he will succeed.

Vincent and Isabelle aren't alone in the battle against Chaos. Among their allies are Simon Haden (deceased), Broximon, a tiny, dapper humanlike creature who is probably a figment of Sterling's imagination, and Bob the divine polar bear. Though explicit rules govern the dissemination of information among the dead, desperate measures are called for and exceptions are made.

Glass Soup is probably not the best introduction to Carroll's mysterious universe. Plunging straight into it without reading at least White Apples may leave readers dazed and confused. It also ends on a note that makes it feel like the middle book of a trilogy.

In spite of its literary, fantastical and metaphorical trappings, Glass Soup is, at its heart, a love story. As with the myth of Orpheus, it is love that inspires Isabelle to snatch Vincent from the grip of death and love that causes Vincent to risk everything to protect Isabelle. Anjo, their son, is the literal incarnation of their love, the unborn nemesis of Chaos.

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