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Onyx reviews: The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll

As a teenager, Frannie McCabe was infamous for his exploits. He set fire to the principal's car, was expelled from school and acquired a police record.

After his marriage to a successful TV producer failed, McCabe returned to his hometown, Crane's View. He remarried, inherited a teenage step-daughter, and became chief of police. His life becomes simple and satisfying. You can go home again, he discovers. He has learned to live down his unglorious youth, now over thirty years in the past.

Things start to get strange when a three-legged dog named Old Vertue is brought into the police station. McCabe, inexplicably attached to the derelict, is distraught when the dog dies a few days later. He buries the animal in the woods with the same shovel he used to fill his father's grave four years earlier.

Old Vertue is unwilling to remain buried; his corpse reappears in McCabe's trunk the next day. Other impossible things happen in Crane's View. A couple vanishes from their home. McCabe's teenage self shows up one night and stays to visit, becoming fond of Pauline, McCabe's step-daughter.

Characters out of a Twilight Zone episode, visible only to McCabe, take over a neighborhood house. The ghost of a dead high school student appears to McCabe, saying that "they" were responsible for her death. Among her personal effects was a sketchbook with pictures of McCabe and Old Vertue.

A mysterious figure named Astopel tells McCabe that he has seven days to discover how what is going on applies to him, but refuses to explain further. McCabe is sent forward in time to experience the last day of his life so that he can tackle the problem in reverse. The things he learns about his future do not comfort him. Each trip into his future, he arrives one day further away from his death, with no control over when he will return to his own time.

Astopel's interference in the timeline has unexpected repercussions and McCabe wanders through his life, meeting up with himself at different ages. He has the unique experience of talking with his father when both men are approximately the same age.

McCabe is not the only one who is dislocated in time—a man McCabe encountered in his future returns to create a more favorable timeline for himself. McCabe gets to a point where "strange" no longer has any meaning for him.

Jonathan Carroll's fabulous tales are uniquely creative. His characters have one foot firmly rooted in our reality, and the other dangling over a precipice into a fantastic realm where none of the rules apply. The secret to their success—or failure—is in how well they learn to cope with this.

Frannie McCabe is a loving husband and father, respected by the people who knew him even when he was a reckless teen. "Weren't most good men naughty in their time?" one of them reflects. He is being manipulated to suit some unknown purpose. He grows to understand that his mission has cosmic consequences even without knowing what the actual task is. Over and over, younger versions of himself appear to provide assistance. Closing in on fifty, he had previously looked on his youthful selves as either stupid or amusing. He begins to understand the importance of keeping each one of his individual selves alive.

How do you row a boat across a wooden sea? The quest for the answer to this frustratingly enigmatic question is what drives Frannie McCabe to make the difficult choices that will satisfy the godlike creatures who have pushed him out of his once-normal life.

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