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From Barnes & NobleWith his latest horror fantasy novel, Jonathan Carroll has proven himself both a master artisan and something of a trickster -- for The Marriage of Sticks is a beautiful love story wrapped in a nearly invisible blanket of horror. Carroll's gradual unfolding of the blanket is done with tremendous skill and subtlety so that it seems as if the terror has hit all at once when it's actually been building in a chilling crescendo. The end result is one of the most imaginative and unsettling stories ever written, where the terrors are many and ever-present, yet embedded in the everyday fabric of life in such a way as to make them seem almost ordinary.
It begins with Miranda Romanec, a 30-something woman with a successful business as a collector of rare books but a sense of drifting aimlessness about her life. Miranda decides to attend a high school reunion, where she hopes to run into her onetime sweetheart, the one she thinks never should have gotten away. On the way there, while riding in a taxi on a crowded L.A. freeway, Miranda is unsettled by a peculiar sight: an old woman sitting along the shoulder of the freeway in a wheelchair. The image of the woman haunts Miranda but eventually fades in significance when she learns something far more shocking while at her reunion.
After the reunion, Miranda returns to her everyday life, though things take an unexpected turn when she meets two new people. The first is a fellow collector, Hugh Oakley, a handsome, fun-loving, and passionate man who would seem to be Miranda's soul mate. But there is one problem: Hugh is married to a beautiful woman and has two children. The second person is Frances Hatch, a 90-year-old woman who has led an amazing life and wants to tell someone about it before she dies.
Miranda and Frances quickly become friends while Miranda and Hugh become lovers. For a while, Miranda fears her relationship with Hugh is doomed because of his marriage, but after riding out several threatening waves, Hugh finally makes the decision to leave his wife. He and Miranda move into a lovely house in upstate New York -- a gift from Frances, who lived there at one time herself. But just when Miranda thinks life is as good as it can possibly get, fate takes the upper hand. Miranda quickly learns that Frances gave her the house for a reason and that the two women share a dark and bitter secret -- a secret that blurs the lines between life and death and deals with karma, reincarnation, and atonement. For Miranda, the truly crushing horror is the burden of her own accountability. And her only hope for salvation involves making the ultimate sacrifice.
It's not difficult to see why Jonathan Carroll won the World Fantasy Award for his previous work. From the bittersweet meaning behind the "marriage of sticks" to the extraordinary power and horror of personal responsibility, this book carries hard-hitting emotions and powerful themes of morality, honesty, and accountability. The story is, at turns, a tragic and compelling love story and an evolving revelation of personal horror -- one that will make readers sit back and examine their own lives with a far more jaundiced eye.