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
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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