Tor Books, 304 pages, $14.75 (c2001)
If a person kills an older or younger version of him- or herself, is it murder, suicide, sci-fi, magic, or just really, really strange? It is questions like this that have made Jonathan Carroll a cult figure.
Maybe it was that the wind changed (à la Mary Poppins), but I suddenly felt in the mood to read “The Wooden Sea,” a book that has been tickling the back of my mind for a while. It is a goofy, thought-provoking, funny/serious book. Indeed, there are murders, thus qualifying it for this blog (not that lack thereof has stopped me from writing about a book), and witty, hefty helpings about the mystery of life.
But I can see why this book might not appeal to everyone.
Frannie McCabe is the chief of police of Crane’s View, New York, the town in which he grew up. He was more likely to be on the opposite side of the jail cell in his youth, but the Vietnam War and an overdue maturity have settled him. He has a wonderful wife, a shy stepdaughter, and a three-and-a-half-legged, one-eyed, droopy dog named Old Vertue. Frannie is happy with his life and is good at his job. After all, he solved (off-stage) only the second murder Crane’s View ever had.
What then is Frannie to do when his three-legged dog expires, is buried, and resurfaces — still dead — in the trunk of his car the next day? By the way, instead of smelling corpse-like, Old Vertue exudes all the smells that Frannie finds most wonderful and evocative. How about when Frannie discovers that a battling couple — regulars on the call circuit — has mysteriously disappeared from their home? And someone(s) has tidied and scrubbed their once disgustingly chaotic house (and it smells wonderful). One minute they are screaming at each other and the next they are gone. The neighbors, standing watch outside the home and waiting for the police to show, did not see the couple leave. Hmmm.
Why do a colorful feather and a sweet-tasting bone-but-not-bone pop up every which way Frannie turns? Why did the corpse of a dead teenage girl talk to him? Who is the stranger who apparently can stop time? Is he an angel? Why is Frannie sent into his future sixty-something-year-old body to live his last week on earth? And the story just gets stranger and stranger.
Underneath the strangeness, Carroll tells the story about a regular kind of guy, someone you might be happy to have in your life. Yeah, he was a hellraiser and nasty piece of work when he was younger, but the past is long gone. Isn’t it? Frannie must travel on an existential journey to find the meaning of his life and what his true purpose might be, and it is to Carroll’s great credit that he keeps that journey moving right along from strange event to even stranger event and gives it an everyman voice besides.
Before you know it, you are at the end. Has Frannie learned anything? More importantly, do you know how to row on a wooden sea?