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The Ghost in Loveby Jonathan Carroll
A man falls in the snow, hits his head on a stone curb and dies. A ghost that's been sent to take his soul to the Afterlife arrives just as he falls. But something strange occurs: the man doesn't die. The ghost is flabbergasted. This is unprecedented. Going immediately to its boss, the ghost asks, what should I do now? The boss says, we don't know how this
A man falls in the snow, hits his head on a stone curb and dies. A ghost that's been sent to take his soul to the Afterlife arrives just as he falls. But something strange occurs: the man doesn't die. The ghost is flabbergasted. This is unprecedented. Going immediately to its boss, the ghost asks, what should I do now? The boss says, we don't know how this happened but we're working on it. In the meantime, we want you to stay with this man and watch to see if he does anything that might help us figure out what's going on.
Unhappily, the ghost agrees. It is a ghost, not a nursemaid. The last thing it wants to do is hang around watching a human being walk through his every day. But a funny thing happensthe ghost falls truly madly deeply in love with the man's girlfriend and things get complicated. The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blamethe responsibility is all our own. It's also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages.
It's tough being a ghost on an empty stomach.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ben Gould was supposed to die, but he didn't, and now he can talk to his dog, Pilot, and Ling, the ghost that's been sent to take his soul to the afterlife. This perspective-changing novel, which follows Carroll's (
Carroll's 13th novel, The Ghost in Love, features a man named Benjamin Gould, a waiter who's given up on his dream of being a great chef and who was supposed to die when he slipped and hit his head on an icy curb. But due to a glitch in the cosmic system, Ben is still alive and accompanied by a female ghost named Ling. Why Ben's ghost would be a female is never illuminated, but Carroll does tell us that "a Chinese farmer invented the idea of ghosts three thousand years ago as a way of explaining to his precocious grandson what happens to people after they die." In honor of him, all ghosts have Chinese names. Ling's purpose seems mainly to be helping Ben reconcile with his estranged girlfriend, German Landis, a rangy, Minnesota-born kindergarten teacher whose "predominant characteristic was that she emanated a powerfully positive aura." Ling is frustrated in this quest by the fact that there are no rules to follow -- as she explains to her boss, the Angel of Death, ghosts only know how to tidy up the messes created by dead people, not ones who are still living -- and by the fact that the longer she hangs around Ben the more her ghostly powers start to diminish, as Ben begins acquiring them.
Among other supernatural abilities, Ben can experience the thoughts and sensations of a stuffed animalcollecting dental assistant named Danielle Voyles, who, like Ben, was supposed to die but didn't, when a ballpoint pen got shot from a crashing plane into her skull. (In another of the book's many absurdities we learn that Ben's talking dog, Pilot, is actually the reincarnation of his Italian ex-girlfriend, Dominique Bertaux, who was flung from the back of the Vespa Ben was driving when she let go to wave at a field of passing cows).
Carroll is an inventive writer, and The Ghost in Love is full of gorgeously imaginative moments. There are strange creatures called "verzes" who appear as guardians when certain characters are in danger. They look like bulldogs except that they have no ears and luminous white skin, "like the part of a white candle closest to the lit flame." That skin is covered with thin purple veins that turn out to be writing -- doodles and what look like "hundreds of tiny, detailed images." Cancer, in the Carrollian realm, takes the form of pink, pearlescent clouds that move "swiftly and low to the ground like thin, beautiful fog" -- if the clouds stop for you, then you will succumb to the disease. There are also memorable scenes that seem to gesture toward larger themes. A picnic where Danielle gets to converse with all the incarnations of her former self, from ten years old to ten-minutes-ago, appears to be a meditation on identity, and the degree to which our past selves determine our present. Similarly, a scene near the novel's end, in which all the negative aspects of Ben's psyche come to life as motley crew of street fighters, is clearly a rumination on how we're all made up of competing selves.
But these glimpses of the book's grander ambitions remain only that. Because there are so few rules governing this world, and because what rules do exist seem made only to be broken, the novel never expands into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. In the unsettling fictions of writers from Kafka to Stephen King, and even the more recent, realistically grounded work of Susanna Clarke and J. K. Rowling, readers accept that extraordinary events occur because they trust that they are not wholly arbitrary: Gregor Samsor's transformation into an insect has some greater thematic resonance; Harry Potter's struggles with Voldemort are part of a larger story about his development from youth to adulthood.
In The Ghost in Love, events happen randomly and without meaning: German can't see Ling for the first half of the novel, but then in an instant she witnesses the ghost standing in Ben's bathroom, with no explanation for the transition. Ben reconciles with German at the book's ending by defeating the belligerent aspects of his personality, but there is no sense of what is at stake in this reunion, or how it solves the problem of his "life in death." In contrast to the wayward protagonists of previous Carroll novels like White Apples and Outside the Dog Museum, Ben and German feel like stock figures -- so quickly drawn, and so lacking in agency, that it's hard to feel invested in their breakup.
In even the most disordered literary realms, from Alice in Wonderland to the labyrinthine fictions of Borges or Calvino, consistencies of tone and theme and character exist which make the author's stories cohere as independent worlds. With The Ghost in Love, Carroll creates a domain that, for all its intrigue, is too amorphous to be fully transporting. --Andrea Walker
Andrea Walker is on the editorial staff of The New Yorker. Her reviews have appeared in Bookforum, The Hartford Courant, and the Times Literary Supplement.
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Read an Excerpt
O N E
The ghost was in love with a woman named German Landis. Just hearing that arresting, peculiar name would have made the ghost’s heart flutter if it had had one. She was coming over in less than an hour, so it was hurrying now to make everything ready. The ghost was a very good cook, sometimes a great one. If it’d spent more time at it or had more interest in the subject, it would have been exceptional.
From its large bed in a corner of the kitchen a mixed-breed, black-and-oatmeal-colored dog watched with great interest as the ghost prepared the meal. This mutt was the only reason that German Landis was coming here today. His name was Pilot, after a poem the woman loved about a Seeing Eye dog.
Suddenly sensing something, the ghost stopped what it was doing and eyeballed the dog. Peevishly, it demanded "What?"
Pilot shook his head. "Nothing. I was only watching you work."
"Liar. That is not the only thing. I know what you were thinking: that I’m an idiot to be doing this."
Embarrassed, the dog turned away and began furiously biting one of its rear paws.
"Don’t do that. Look at me. You think I’m nuts, don’t you?"
Pilot said nothing and kept biting his foot.
"Yes, I think you’re nuts, but I also think it’s very sweet. I only wish she could see what you’re doing for her."
Resigned, the ghost shrugged and sighed. "It helps when I cook. When my mind is focused, I don’t get so frustrated."
"No, you do not. How could you? You’re only a dog."
The dog rolled his eyes. "Idiot."
They had a cordial relationship. Like Icelandic or Finnish, "Dog "is spoken by very few. Only dogs and dead people understand the language. When Pilot wanted to talk, he either had to get in a quick chat with whatever canine he happened to meet on the street when he was taken out for a walk three times a day, or he spoke with this ghost—who, by attrition, knew more about Pilot now than any dog had ever known. There aren’t that many human ghosts in the land of the living, so this one was equally happy for the dog’s company.
Pilot asked, "I keep meaning to ask: Where did you get your name?"
The cook purposely ignored the dog’s question and continued preparing the meal. When it needed an ingredient, it closed its eyes and held out an open hand. A moment later the thing materialized in the middle of its palm: a jungle-green lime, a small pile of red cayenne pepper, or particularly rare saffron from Sri Lanka. Pilot watched, absorbed, never tiring of this amazing feat.
"What if you imagined an elephant? Would it appear in your hand too?"
Dicing onions now almost faster than the eye could see, the ghost grinned. "If I had a big enough hand, yes."
"And all you’d have to do to make that elephant appear is imagine it?"
"Oh, no, it’s much more complicated than that. When a person dies, then they’re taught the real structure of things. Not only how they look or feel, but the essence of what they really are. Once you have that understanding, it’s easy to make things."
Pilot considered this and said, "Then, why don’t you just recreate her? That way, you wouldn’t have to fret about her so much anymore. You’d have your own version of her right here."
The ghost looked at the dog as if he had just farted loudly. "You’ll understand how dumb that suggestion is after you die."
Fifteen blocks away, a woman was walking down the street carrying large letter "D." If you were to see this image in a magazine or television advertisement, you’d smile and think, That’s a catchy picture. The woman was pleasant looking but not memorable. Her best features were her sloe eyes, which were sexy, full of humor, and intelligent. Otherwise she had even features that fit well together, although her nose was a little small for her face. She was aware of that and often self-consciously touched her nose when she knew she was being observed. What people remembered most about her was not the nose but how very tall she was: an almost six-foot-tall woman holding a big blue letter "D." The only things she had in her pockets now were one key, a bunch of dog treats, and a small toy Formula One racing car. Her father had given her the toy fifteen years ago as a good luck charm when she left home for college. She genuinely believed it had some kind of good juju. Treasuring it, she had always kept the small object close by. But she was about to give it away to someone she both loved and disliked. Because he really needed any help he could get now to change the way his life was going. She knew he didn’t believe in "powers" or talismans, so she planned on hiding it somewhere in his apartment when he wasn’t looking. Hopefully just the toy’s aura near him would help.
She wore jeans, a gray sweatshirt with St. Olaf college written in yellow letters across the chest, and scuffed brown hiking boots. The boots made her taller. Funnily enough, her height never bothered her: the nose, yes, and sometimes her name. The name and the nose, but never the height, because everyone on both sides of her family was tall. She grew up in the midst of a bunch of blond humantrees. Midwesterners, Minnesotans, they ate huge meals three times
a day. The men wore size thirteen or fourteen shoes and the women’s feet weren’t much smaller. All of the children in the family had unusual names. Her parents loved to read, especially the Bible, classic German literature, and Swedish folktales, which was where they had harvested the names for their children. Her brother was Enos, she was German, and her sister was named Pernilla. As soon as it was legally possible, Enos changed his name to Guy and would answer to nothing else. He joined a punk band called Kidney Failure, all of which left his parents speechless and disheartened.
German Landis was a schoolteacher who taught art to twelve and thirteen-year-olds. The letter "D" she carried now was part of an upcoming assignment for them. Because she was both genial and enthusiastic, she was a first-rate teacher. Kids liked Ms. Landis because she clearly liked them. They felt that affection the moment they entered her classroom every day. Colleagues were always commenting about how much laughter came out of German’s classroom. Her enthusiasm for the students’ creations was genuine. On one wall of her apartment was a large bulletin board covered with Polaroid photographs that she’d taken over the years of her kids’ work. She often spent evenings looking through art books. The next day she would plop one or more of these books down on the desk in front of a student and point to specific illustrations she thought they should see. Some days the class wouldn’t work at all. They would go to the city museum for a show she thought they should see. Or a film that had significance to what they were doing. Sometimes they would just sit around talking about what mattered to them. German always thought
of these days as intermissions, and almost as important as the workdays. When grilled by the students about her life, German talked about growing up in cold Minnesota, her love of auto racing, her dog, Pilot, and her not-so-long-ago boyfriend, Ben. But the students now knew not to ask questions about ex-boyfriend Ben.
She fell in love easily but walked away just as easily from a relationship when it went bad. Some men—and there had been many of them—thought this showed she was coldhearted, but they were wrong. German Landis simply didn’t understand people who moped. Life was too interesting to choose suffering. Although she got a big kick out of him, she thought her brother, Guy, was goofy for spending his life writing songs only about things that either stank or sucked. In response, he drew a picture of what her gravestone would look like if he designed it: a big yellow smiley face on it and the words I like being dead!
Little did either of them know that she would like it when her time came to die, years later. German Landis would move into deaths she’d moved into new schools, relationships, or phases of her life: full speed ahead, hopes ahoy, heart filled like a sail with reasonable optimism and a belief that the gods were fundamentally benevolent, no matter where she was.
Shifting the heavy metal letter from one hand to the other, she grimaced thinking what was about to happen. Whenever German went to Ben’s place these days to pick up Pilot, there was almost always trouble. They’d argue about big things and small. Sometimes there were valid reasons for these disagreements; usually they occurred only because these two people were in the same room together. Yet, even after all the weird and bad things he had done and said, in the first few seconds whenever they met now, she welled up with a powerful longing to kiss him and touch him and hold both his hands tightly as she’d done so many glad times before
They had had it—they’d found it, found each other, and it had worked like no other relationship she had ever experienced. But now it was broken and reduced to this: sharing a dog and worrying that every time they spoke to each other there would be some kind of clash. One night at the end, right before she moved out of his apartment, German sat naked in the living room holding her talisman toy car tightly in her lap. Eyes closed, she whispered again and again, "Please change this. Make it get better. Please."
They had been so much in love, equally and passionately. Like aspired web that you walk into, it is not so easy to get all the tendrils of real love off after you have passed through it.
Early in their relationship, they had seen the Cary Grant film The Awful Truth, about a couple that splits up but, by sharing custody of their dog, reconcile because of their abiding love. Neither German nor Ben liked the movie. But now it stuck on the walls of both their heads like a glowing Post-it note because some of the story had come to pass for them.
They had contact now only because of the dog. Both regarded Pelotas their adopted child and friend. Ben had given it to German on their third date. He had gone to the town animal shelter and asked to see whatever dog had been there the longest. He had to repeat that request three times before the attendants believed him. The whole thing was German’s idea. It was the first of many of her ideas that effortlessly touched Benjamin Gould in the middle of his soul.
Several days earlier, she’d said she was going to buy a dog that no one wanted. She was going to the dog pound soon and, sight unseen, buy whichever dog had lived there longer than any of the others.
"But what if it’s a skeet?" Ben asked half-seriously. "What if it’s got a terrible personality and dread diseases?"
She giggled. "I’ll take it to a veterinarian. Skeet and disease are okay. I just want to give it some kind of nice life before it dies."
"And if it’s ferocious? What if you get a biter?" Ben asked these questions but was joking. He was already a convert.
At the animal shelter they took him to see a dog they’d named Methuselah because it had lived there so long. Methuselah did not lift its head from the floor when the stranger stopped in front of its cage and peered in. Ben saw nothing but entry-level dog. If it had any extras, he sure didn’t see them. There was not one thing special about this animal. No soulful sensitive eyes. No puppy’s adorable, rollicking enthusiasm. It did no tricks. If it had a shtick, cute wasn’t part of it. All the employees at the shelter could say about this uninteresting mixed breed was that it was housebroken, quiet, and never caused trouble. No wonder any prospective owners had rejected it. Every single sign indicated this bland mutt was nothing but a dud.
Although he had little money, Ben Gould bought Methuselah the dud. The dog had to be coaxed from its cage and out onto the street again for literally the first time in months. It did not look at all happy. Ben had no way of knowing that he’d bought a skeptic and fatalist that didn’t believe anything good came of anything good. At the time of its adoption, Methuselah was past middle age. It had lived a difficult life but not a bad one. It had had three previous owners, all of them forgettable. On occasion it had been kicked and beaten. Once it had been struck a glancing blow by a passing truck.
It survived, limping for weeks afterward, but it survived. When picked up by the dogcatcher, it was relieved more than anything else. At the time it had been living on the street for three months. From past experience it did not trust human beings, but it was hungry and cold and knew they were able to remedy that. What the dodged not know was that if it was taken to the wrong kind of animal shelter, it would be killed after a short time.
But it was lucky. In fact this dog’s great turn of life luck began the day it entered this particular haven. The place was funded entirely bay rich childless couple who loved animals above everything else in the world and visited it frequently. As a result, none of the stray animals brought there was ever euthanized. The cages were always spotlessly clean and warm. There was ample food and even rawhide chew bones, which Methuselah found disgusting and ignored.
It ate and slept and watched for the next three months—a great career move, because it was missing a miserably cold and snowy winter outside. It did not know what this place was, but so long as it was fed and left in peace, then it was an adequate home. One of the joys of being a dog is that they have no concept of the word "future."Everything is right now, and if right now happens to be a warm floor and a full stomach, then life is good.
Who was this man pulling on its leash? Where were they going? They had walked many blocks through blinding, blowing snow. Methuselah was old enough that the bitter cold pierced his bones and joints. Back home in the warmth of the animal shelter, the dog could go outside whenever he wanted but rarely did in mean weather like this.
"We’re almost there," the man said sympathetically. But dogs donor understand human language, so this meant nothing to the now wretched animal. All he knew was that he was cold and lost, and life had just turned hard again after that pleasant respite in the shelter.
They were two blocks from German Landis’s building when it happened. After looking both ways, Ben stepped off the sidewalk into the street. Slipping on the snow, he lost his balance. Arms windmilling, he began to fall backward. Startled by this sudden wild movement, Methuselah leapt away and jerked hard on the leash. The man tried to stop his fall while at the same time keeping the dog from bolting out into the street and being hit by a car. As a result of his body going in so many directions at once, Ben fell much harder than he might have if he’d just gone down from the slip. The back of his head hit the stone curb hard with a loud, thick thud, bounced, and then hit it again just as hard.
He must have blacked out then, because the next thing he knew, he was on his back looking up into the concerned faces of four people, including a policeman who held the dog’s leash.
"He opened his eyes!"
"Don’t touch him, though. Don’t move him till the ambulance gets here."
Across the street, the ghost stood in the snow watching this, utterly confounded. A moment later it fizzled and flickered like a sick television set and disappeared. Methuselah was the only one to seat, but ghosts are nothing new to dogs so the animal didn’t react. He only hunkered down into himself and shivered some more.
The Angel of Death looked at the ghost of Benjamin Gould and shook his head. "What more can I tell you? They’ve gotten very clever."
They were at a table in a crummy turnpike restaurant near Wallingford, Connecticut. The Angel of Death was nothing special to look at: it had manifested itself today as a plate of someone’s finished meal of bacon and eggs. Egg yolk was smeared across the white plate. Inside this smear were scattered bread crumbs.
It was midnight and the restaurant was almost empty. The waitress stood outside sharing a cigarette with the cook. She was in no hurry to clear the table. Having found the Angel of Death here, the ghost of Benjamin Gould had manifested itself as a fat black fly now sitting in the egg yolk.
The plate said, "When Gould hit his head on the curb, he was supposed to die. You know the routine: cracked skull, intracranial bleeding, and death. But it didn’t happen.
"To oversimplify, think of it as a massive virus that had infected our computer system. Afterwards, a whole bunch of similar glitches popped up across the grid and we knew we were under attack. Outreach guys are working on it. They’ll figure it out."
Unsatisfied by this explanation, the ghost/fly paced back and forth across the drying egg yolk, its little black spindly legs getting yellow and gooey. "How can Heaven get a virus in its computer system? I thought you were omniscient."
"So did we until this happened. Those guys in Hell are getting cleverer all the time. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t worry, we’ll work it out. For now, though, the problem is you, my friend."
Hearing this, the fly stopped pacing and looked down at the plate. "What do you mean?"
"There’s nothing we can do about you until we fix this glitch. You’ve got to stay here till then."
"And do what?" the fly dared to ask huffily.
"Well, doing what you’re doing, for one. You can continue being fly for a while and then maybe change into a person or a civet maybe . . . Changing identities can be lots of fun. And there’s other pleasant things to do on earth: learn to smoke, try on different kinds of cologne, watch Carole Lombard films . . ."
"Who’s Carole Lombard?"
"Never mind," the plate said and then mumbled, "She’s reason enough for you to stay here."
The fly remained silent and unmoved.
The plate tried to change the subject. "Did you know that Ben Gould went to school in this town? That’s why I’m here now: to do some checking up on his history."
But the fly wouldn’t be sidetracked. "How long will this take? Just how long will I have to stay here?"
"In all honesty, I don’t know. It could be awhile. Because once we find the computer virus, then we’re going to have to run a check of the whole system." The plate said this lightly, knowing full well that it was on spongy ground here.
"‘Awhile’ meaning how long—a year? A century?"
"No, no, not that long. The human body is built to physically last only seventy or eighty years, ninety at the most. There are exceptions, but not many. I would say Benjamin Gould will live no more than another fifty or so. But if you don’t mind some advice, I would suggest that, while waiting, you go and stay with him. With the right kind of guidance, he could skip having to live a few lifetimes and move several steps up the ladder."
"I am not a teacher, I’m a ghost—his ghost. That’s my job. Read the job description."
The Angel of Death considered this and decided it was time to ghetto the point. "All right, then, here’s the deal. They’ve decided—"
If the plate could have made a face it would have pursed its lips in exasperation. "You know very well who I’m talking about—don’t play dumb. They’ve decided that because it might take a while to sort-out this virus problem and you’re stuck here through no fault of your own, they’re offering you a chance to try something untested
just to see if such a thing works: if you can somehow get through to
Benjamin Gould and help make him a better person while he’s alive, then you won’t have to come back to earth and haunt things after he dies. We know how much you hate fieldwork, so if you succeed here, you can stay in the office and work there in the future.
"We don’t know how much longer he’ll live, because he was scheduled to die from the fall that day. Now the matter of his fate is anyone’s guess. That means there’s no telling whether you have a lot of time to work on him or only a little."
The ghost was genuinely surprised by this offer and paused to let the intriguing proposal sink in. It was just about to ask, "If I don’t come back here to haunt him, what will I do instead in the office?"But the waitress came to the table, saw the fly in the egg yolk, and whacked it dead with an old newspaper.
Somewhere in everyone’s inner city is a cemetery of old loves. For the lucky contented few who like where they are in their lives and who they’re with, it is a mostly forgotten place. The tombstones there are faded and overturned, the grass uncut; brambles and wildflowers grow everywhere.
For other people, their place is as stately and ordered as a military graveyard. Its many flowers are well watered and tended, the white gravel walks have been carefully raked. All signs indicate that this spot is visited often.
For most of us, though, our cemetery is a hodgepodge. Some sections are neglected or completely ignored. Who cares about these stones or the old loves buried beneath them? Even their names are hard to remember. But other gravestones there are important, whether we like to admit it or not. We visit them often—sometimes too often, truth be told. And one can never tell how we’ll feel when these visits are over: sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier. It is entirely unpredictable how we’ll feel going back home to today.
Ben Gould rarely visited his cemetery. Not because he was particularly happy or content with his life, but because the past had never held much importance for him. If he was unhappy today, what difference did it make if he was happy yesterday? Every moment of life was different. How did looking or living in the past genuinely help him to live in this minute, beyond a few basic survival trick she’d learned along the way?
In one of the first long discussions they ever had, Ben and German Landis disagreed completely about the significance of the past. She loved it. Loved looking at it from all angles, loved to feel it crusher right now like a thick midday shadow. She loved the past’s weight and stature.
"Stature? What stature?" Ben asked skeptically, thinking she was joking. The memory of the delicious sandwich you ate for lunch is not going to take away your hunger four hours later. On the contrary, it will only make the hunger worse. As far as he was concerned, the past is not our friend.
They argued and argued, neither convincing the other that he or she was wrong. It became a joke and eventually a stumbling block in their relationship. Much later, when they were breaking up, Germantearfully said, "In six months you’ll probably think of me and our relationship about as often as you think of your third-grade teacher."
But on that subject she was 100 percent wrong.
The great irony that held both Ben Gould’s life and apartment captive these days was that he lived with not one but two ghosts, because
German Landis haunted him too. He went to bed thinking about her and minutes after waking every morning he started thinking about her again. He couldn’t stop himself, damn it. It wasn’t farther had no control over it. Their failed relationship was an insistent mosquito buzzing close around his head. No matter how much waving away he did, it never left or stopped irritating him.
He was at his desk, staring at his hands, when the doorbell rang that morning. He was wearing only underpants and nothing else. Heknew it was she. He’d known she was coming but had purposely chosen not to get dressed. In recent meetings with his ex-girlfriend, Ben had grown increasingly remote and sullen, which only made the
air between them dense and uncomfortable. Sometimes it got so bad that German thought, Oh, just let him keep the damned dog and forget it. At least that way I won’t ever have to see him again. But Pilot was hers; Ben had given him to her as a present. She loved the dog as much as he did. Why surrender only because her idiotic ex made her uneasy for five minutes every few days when she came to get Pilot?
Before the bell rang, Ben had been thinking of the first time they ever made love. They were sitting next to each other on his bed undressing. She wore simple black underwear and didn’t seem at all selfconscious about taking her clothes off. When she was down to her brand panties, she stopped, grinned at him, and said in the sexiest, most deliciously inviting voice he had ever heard, "Want to see more?"
The ghost heard the doorbell and immediately tensed up. Pilot looked at it and then toward Ben’s bedroom. The kitchen table had been sumptuously set with gorgeous food and objects. In the middle of this spread was a full blooming stargazer lily placed inside an elegant faint lavender glass vase from Moreno, Italy.
Nothing happened. No sound emanated from inside the bedroom.
A minute later the doorbell rang a second time.
"Isn’t he going to answer the door?"
The ghost crossed its arms and then uncrossed them. It made three different faces in the course of eight seconds and, finally unable to stand it anymore, walked out of the kitchen and over to the front door. Ben Gould finally emerged from his bedroom looking both sluggish and confrontational.
The ghost looked at the man in his underpants and glowered.
Again? He was going to pull this sort of immature, retard stunt wither again?
Gould rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, took a slow deep breath, and opened the front door. The ghost stood two feet behind him, holding a metal spatula in its right hand. It was so jumpy about seeing German that it wiggled the utensil upanddownandupanddown at an incredibly fast speed. Thank God neither person could see this.
Both said their single words in voices as void of emotion as they could muster.
"Is Pilot ready to go?" she asked carefully.
"Sure. Come on in." Ben turned toward the kitchen and she followed.
She looked at his nice butt in the wrinkled underpants and closed her eyes in despair. Why was he doing this? Was she supposed to be shocked or embarrassed to see him in his underwear? Had he forgotten that she had seen him naked, oh, several hundred times in their past? German knew what he smelled like clean and what he
smelled like sweaty. She knew how he liked to be touched and the most intimate sounds that he made. She knew how he cried and what made him laugh out loud. How he liked his tea and how he absolutely sparkled when, walking down a street together, she put her arm over his shoulder to proudly show the world she was his pal and tall lover.
Seeing where the two were going now, the ghost disappeared from its place by the front door and reappeared a second later in the kitchen. When they entered, its arms were tightly pressed against its sides in anticipation.
Everything one could imagine wanting to eat for breakfast was on that table: warm freshly baked scones, strawberry preserves from England, honey from Hawaii, Lamaze coffee (German’s favorite brand),a plate laid with long shiny strips of northern Scottish salmon, one more heaped with perfectly prepared eggs Benedict (another love others). There were two other egg dishes as well. Mouthwatering fare covered and graced every part of that small round table. It looked like cover of Gourmet magazine. Whenever Ben Gould watched a cooking show on television, the ghost watched, too, and often took notes. Anytime German came by to get the dog, the ghost made one of these TV recipes or something else delectable from one of Ben’s many cookbooks and had it on the table waiting for her when she arrived.
Of course, German couldn’t see any of it. What she saw now was only a bare wooden table with a single spoon off to one side, exactly where Ben had left it the night before after using the spoon to stir sugar into a cup of weak herbal tea. She looked at that spoon a longtime now before speaking. It broke her heart.
For those glorious few silent moments, the ghost pretended German Landis was staring in awe because she actually could see everything that it had prepared for her, because the ghost knew how much the woman enjoyed breakfast.
Her favorite meal of the day. She loved to buy it, prepare it, and eat it. She loved to shop for fresh croissants and petit pain au chocolate at the bakery two doors down from here. Every time she happily closed her eyes so as to concentrate on the heavenly smell of bitter fresh coffee when the owner of the local Italian market ground the beans while she waited. She loved grapefruit juice, ripe figs, bacon and eggs, hash brown potatoes with ketchup. She had grown up eating mammoth Minnesota breakfasts that buoyed anyone over the freezing temperatures and car-high snowdrifts outside. Like her mother, German Landis was a lousy cook but an enthusiastic one, especially when it cameo breakfast. She was delighted when people ate as much as she did.
The ghost knew these things because it had sat in this very kitchen many times watching with pleasure and longing while the woman assembled the morning feast. It was one of the traditions German and Ben had established early in their relationship: she made breakfast while he prepared all the other meals.
"Have you been eating?"
"What?" Ben wasn’t sure he had heard her right.
"Have you been eating?" German repeated more emphatically.
He was thrown off guard by her question. She hadn’t said anything so intimate in a long time.
"Yes, I’m fine."
"What do you mean,’ What?’?"
German picked up the spoon and turned to Ben. While reaching for it, she put her hand right through the middle of the perfects even-egg soufflé that the ghost had baked for her. It was a masterpiece. But German didn’t see or feel it because ghosts make ghost food that exists only in the ghost world. Although the living sometimes sense that world, they can’t occupy that dimension.
"What have you been eating?"
Ben looked at her and shrugged like a guilty child. "Stuff. Good stuff. Healthy things—you know . . ." His voice dribbled off. She knew he was lying. He never cooked anything for himself when hews alone. He ate junk food from circus-colored bags and drank tea.
Pilot got up from his bed and walked slowly over to the woman. He liked the feel of her big hand on his head. Her hands were always warm and loving.
"Hello, Mr. Dog. Are you ready to go?"
Suddenly and with close to a feeling of horror, Ben realized what it would be like in this apartment a few minutes from now when
those two were gone and he was here alone with nothing to do.Germanprobably had planned a nice long walk with the dog. When it was over, she would take Pilot to her place where they’d eat lunchtogether.
Ben had never been to her new apartment but could imaginewhat it was like. She had used her taste and humor to effortlesslymake his home come alive with such things as witty color combinationsand her collections of old postcards of magicians, circusperformers, and ventriloquists, Matchbox toy Formula One racingcars, and Japanese sumo wrestler dolls on the shelves and windowsills.The rare silver Hetchins bicycle she’d bought for nothing at alocal flea market, entirely restored by herself, and now rode everywherewould be placed somewhere prominently because she likedto look at it. That comfortable blue couch she’d bought when theywere together and took when she moved out would be the center ofher living room. In all likelihood the couch would be covered withlarge art books both open and closed. That image alone hurt Ben becauseit was so lovingly familiar to him. Pilot had his place on thecouch next to her. The dog would not budge from there unless she did. Her new apartment would have to be light and airy because sheinsisted on both. German always needed a lot of natural light wherevershe lived.
She also liked to open windows even on the coldest days of theyear to fill any room she occupied with fresh air. It drove Benbonkers when they were living together, but now of course hemissed that quirk as well as most of her other ones. Too often he rememberedhow in the middle of winter she would get out of bed in the morning, throw open the window, then run back to bed andwrap herself tightly around him. Then she would whisper in his ear until they both fell asleep again.
The other day, while sitting morosely over another cup of tea atthis table and thinking about their time together, Ben had writtenher a note on a paper napkin from a take-out restaurant. Knowingshe would never read it, he wrote what he honestly felt: "I miss youevery day of my life and for that alone I will never forgive myself."
"Well! I guess Pilot and I’d better be going."
"I’ll be back with him tomorrow. Is two o’clock okay?"
"Yes, that’ll be fine." He made to say something else but, catchinghimself, stopped, and walked instead to the other side of the kitchento retrieve the dog leash hanging on a hook there.
German took the toy car out of her pocket, slipped it into thedrawer in the kitchen table, and silently slid the drawer closed again.Ben didn’t see a thing.
Unexpectedly a moment came when, handing over the leash,both people let their guards down. They looked at each other with afrank mixture of love, resentment, and yearning that was immense.Both of them turned quickly away.
At the table, the ghost observed all this. When it had sat down, it had pulled the punched soufflé toward its chest with both hands, asif trying to protect the ruined beauty from any further damage.
Now, seeing this dramatic look rocket back and forth betweenthem, the ghost slowly lowered its face into the middle of the souffléright up to its ears and remained like that while good-byes weresaid and German left. It was still face-deep in the eggy mess when itheard the front door close.
Ben walked back into the kitchen, sat down across from the ghost, and stared directly at it. The ghost eventually lifted its headfrom the soufflé and saw that it was being stared at. Although it knewit was invisible, the intensity of the man’s gaze was distressing.
Lifting the teaspoon off the table, Ben appeared to weigh it in hishand. In truth, what he was doing was testing to see if any of German’swarmth remained in the metal.
Suddenly he flung the spoon with all his might against the farwall. It ricocheted loudly off several places before landing and scuddering across the floor.
The ghost lowered its face back into the soufflé.
Excerpted from The Ghost in Love by Jonathan Carroll
Copyright © 2008 by Jonathan Carroll
Published in September 2008 by Farrar Straus and Giroux, LLC
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Jonathan Carroll's novel The Wooden Sea was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2001. He is the author of such acclaimed novels as White Apples, The Land of Laughs, The Marriage of Sticks, and Bones of the Moon. He lives in Vienna, Austria.
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Carroll 'Glass Soup ' has a gift for finding a fantastic core hidden inside everyday life that is down-the-rabbit-hole imaginative yet feels like fundamental truth. This story of a man, his girlfriend, and their dog finds the author in top form. Ben Gould hits his head on the sidewalk in an accident that should have killed him. Somehow he survives, but he's changed in ways that he cannot understand. So starts a magical tale in which Ben talks to his dog, Pilot the ghost sent to monitor Ben falls in love with his girlfriend and a mysterious knife-wielding man threatens them all. The novel is full of great characters who experience resonant moments: at a picnic of her former selves, a woman discovers how quickly we change Ben's girlfriend finds power in a memory of food, love, and home Ben and his loved ones face an angry mob of his insecurities and failings. Love, memory, and balancing the needs of our many selves are themes in this occasionally scary, often luminous work of unconventional fantasy.
I was so disappointed with this rather insipid morality tale in the thin guise of supernatural fantasy. Find yourself, be yourself or the dark you will come and eat your lunch! If a Nicholas Sparks novel and a Mitch Albom tale produced an anemic offspring, it would be this one. Even the dog was less than engaging. Sorry to be mean, but I expected so much more.
This is a very strange book. Features of the plot include invisibility, reincarnation, time travel and life after death. Various characters have the ability to read minds, to see disease, to foresee the future and to repair unfinished business. One of the main characters is a talking dog. The book has been described as a fantasy, but I beg to differ. Just an example (from page 168): "His father once said life was deeply unfair. At birth you're given a very complicated board game but no instructions on how to play it. You must try to work out all the rules yourself. At the same time, you must play the game. Once. If you lose, doom. No oops, I'm just a beginner, can I try that wrong move again? No, you cannot. No second chances. Figure out the rules from nothing while simultaneously playing the game of life. How could a person NOT fail?" Some of the writing may make you wish grammar was still taught in school, and there are a handful of non sequiturs to the plot, but I found *The Ghost in Love* a delight. I also suspect that it is profound, but I am no philosopher.
I really got into this book. So much so it was hard to put down. I wish the ending could have been a little more . . . but then, it really left you pondering and wanting more and perhaps that was the authors spin. He really has some unique thoughts that I still am pondering. Yes. I recommend it. If would be great for a book club group.
Jonathan Carroll's latest novel, The Ghost in Love is the latest of thirteen genuinely magical fantasy novels in which the author makes magic the way Fred Astaire danced: effortless, simple, wondrous.
In the Ghost in Love, Ben and his girlfriend German have just broken up a long-term relationship that seems to have been as wonderful as love can be (Carroll has a special gift for bringing happy family relations to life). Now they are on the outs, and sharing custody of Pilot, their shelter-dog, and every time they meet to swap the dog, their hearts break anew.
Ben should have died the day he got the dog, when he slipped on ice and broke his head. But he didn't. So the Angel of Death sent Ben's ghost, Ling, to earth, to investigate why the universe has stopped obeying its divine destiny. Ling is hopelessly in love with German, and the ghost is also a fantastic cook (as is Ben), so whenever German is due to come over, Ling spends the whole day cooking elaborate, invisible meals for her, while chatting morosely with the dog (all ghosts speak Dog).
That's all in the first few pages. Then it gets weird.
Carroll's standard formula for his novels is to introduce us to wonderful people living magical blessed lives, lives so achingly rendered that you want to crawl into the page and snuggle under the covers with them. Then he smashes their lives like sand-castles, and his wonderful people fall apart while magic unmakes them, rewriting the rules of their world to reveal hidden truths about love, family, self-regard, self-loathing, and other emotionally charged subjects.
In Ghost in Love, Carroll does this again, but even moreso, using a kind of dreamlike fluidity to constantly rewrite the rules of his world and its magic as evil and good tear apart the lives of Ben, German, Pilot and Ling and the people around them. The story grows ever-more existential, allegorical and weird as the pages fly past.
But it's all handled so gracefully that the dream-logic never falters. Carroll is the omnipotent god of his characters and situations, and he is totally in control of every variable, so that we trust him throughout, even though he never plays fair.
And the message, the conclusion in the end? Without spoiling things, I'll say this: The Ghost in Love contains genuinely profound and illuminating truths about the way that we love others and ourselves, and about the power of owning up to your bad deeds, and about the danger and wonder of nostalgia for our simpler pasts.
I've read and enjoyed all thirteen of Carroll's novels, and this one is going right on the shelf with the others, and will occupy the same oft-visited part of my mental landscape wherein dwell his other magical books.
The book is a great book to read i got it form the author and then here you got a ghost she is in love a man she meet but she is dead and great cook she love someone who she can not have but accident happen and then she see the other people in the house and strange thing happens in the book. She love the man of her dream but she can not have him he is in love some one else and then the story is great and will keep you wanted to read and find out what happen in the book and why ghost come and go and then you see you love the book till the end i got the book form the author and then i read and will blog on it posted on amazon and all my sites and good reads and then on bn The book is a great book to read i got it form the author and then here you got a ghost she is in love a man she meet but she is dead and great cook she love someone who she can not have but accident happen and then she see the other people in the house and strange thing happens in the book. She love the man of her dream but she can not have him he is in love some one else and then the story is great and will keep you wanted to read and find out what happen in the book and why ghost come and go and then you see you love the book till the end i got the book form the author and then i read and will blog on it posted on amazon and all my sites and good reads and then on bn