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Onyx reviews: Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 07/30/2014
Bathing the Lion starts with a mundane domestic situation. Dean and Vanessa have
reached a breaking point in their marriage where one is willing to say
out loud that they don't seem to like each other very much any more and the
other is forced to agree. All of a sudden, after years of stasis, this couple is
rocketing toward separation and divorce. Shock from this unexpected (but
inevitable) turn of events sends them into the world in search of friends and companions.
Ultimately, the incident
proves unimportant except in the grander scheme of things, because the
overpowering force of disarray and destruction known as Chaos is threatening to
rip apart more than a marriage. Unbeknownst to them, both Dean and Vanessa, in a
former existence, were "mechanics," entities with the power to combat
Chaos. Mechanics have specific skills and aptitudes. They show up in (or are
sent to) places where the master plan is going off the rails to fix
things. Humans—or, indeed, higher creatures of any kind, on any planet—are
never supposed to be aware of their work. They are fixers toiling on
the down-low, righting subtle wrongs and, occasionally, battling the more
powerful schemes of Chaos.
After they retired, their memories were expunged and they were set up in this
new life. Such is the lot of most mechanics. They can be anyone,
anywhere but they know nothing of mechanics or Chaos. They become, for all intents and purposes, normal humans (or aliens).
Dean's business partner (who also happens to be Vanessa's lover) is an
exception to the rule. When he retired, he was allowed to maintain his memories
of his life as a mechanic. This can be frustrating at times, because he has none
of a mechanic's powers. Still, he is unprepared for the
appearance of a mysterious and all-knowing little girl who instructs him to find
William Edmonds, a man he doesn't know. "You don't have any time to waste.
Everything happens today," she advises.
Whatever is about to happen requires these former mechanics, a group that
also includes Jane,
Vanessa's boss at the nightclub where she plays piano. Increasingly strange
things happen to them, including a shared dream (that features a talking chair
from Jane's favorite book) in which they all perceive something different on the map inscribed on the
side of a giant red elephant.
Their lives become increasingly bizarre when they are subjected to a time
slip that sends them into a Groundhog Day-like experience crossed with
Slaughterhouse Five. They are continually yanked back and forth through time
(individually or in groups) to days from
their human past. Their
contemporary selves will have no recollection of this repeated occurrence, but
it is important for the five time travelers to either glean new information or
leave behind evidence of their visits. This is a permanent condition: they
will never return to sequential existences, and their lives will never progress
beyond the day this Chaotic somersault happened to them.
The five aren't alone, though. Another mechanic named Crebold wanders in and
out of the frame. Is he an agent of good or of Chaos? It's not clear, but he
seems compelled to provide assistance from time to time. The longer the
mechanics spend together, the more they remember of their past lives, which
allows them to put the tools placed before them to use.
Because these particular mechanics have spent some of their existences as
humans, they have a greater appreciation of reality, which gives them power
The characters are interesting enough—and they're not all particularly
likable—but their human existences are not as important as their missions.
One character is allowed to be written out of reality altogether and his absence
is barely noticed. This isn't an action-packed novel. There's a lot of talk
about metaphysical concepts and the nature of reality. The mechanics have to
explain a lot of things to each other, which can be heavy slogging for a reader.
They essentially talk themselves into a solution to the universe's predicament
or, rather, into an understanding of the universe's solution to its quandary.
They don't have to do much—just sit back and let the universe have its way
It's been six years since Carroll's previous book, The
Ghost in Love, but he is still interested in exploring his fascinating view
of reality. In previous books, he has talked about a mosaic, a grand design that
the universe is gradually assembling only to have Chaos disrupt the pattern from
time to time. Carroll is also very interested in the lives of dogs. He has yet
to write a book without one talking on a prominent, often speaking, role. In
this book, Carroll reveals that dogs are happy because they know what happens
after they die, and it is quite pleasant.
Bathing the Lion probably isn't the optimal introduction to Carroll,
but for readers who have been taking this crazy, surreal ride with the author,
it is an interesting addition to his mythos. Hopefully it won't take nearly as
long for the next installment to appear.
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