I'm not always late to the party. For instance, when Robert B. Parker started hitting the best-seller lists with his Spenser novels I was already a fan. I'd followed Roger Zelazny since his first two books appeared as Ace paperbacks, well before he began the Amber series. Before Jorge Luis Borges was being commonly mentioned here in the US as a likely Nobel Prize recipient (and it's a crime that he never got it), I was following some of his work (which was featured in Judith Merril's collections of the year's best sf and fantasy, and in Terry Carr's New Worlds of Fantasy anthologies). Not always late.
But when I'm late, I'm really late. Watched my first episode of Doctor Who last month on Netflix; this year marks 50 years since the first episode. (And if you're even later to the party than I am, the series is delightful and you should give it a look.) Didn't check out Stephen King until 'Salem's Lot was out in paperback and The Shining and Night Shift were on the hardcover racks. Didn't pick up a John D. MacDonald book until the mid-1970s. Didn't read William Goldman until Marathon Man came out in paperback and Spider Robinson's rave review of The Princess Bride ran in Galaxy magazine. Am only now starting on Neil Gaiman's work.
And then there's Jonathan Carroll.
He's been around a while, and when his first novel, The Land of Laughs, appeared in paperback I picked up a copy and before I got around to reading it, Voice of Our Shadow, his second, had also been issued in softcover. Read them both, but for some reason, they didn't make a big impression at the time. I'll assume that I zipped through the books too quickly to appreciate them. Maybe I wasn't exactly late to the party, but when I got there, I stuck around a few minutes and motored before I knew what a terrific party it was.
The Wikipedia page devoted to Carroll mentions a comment from a reviewer who says if Carroll were a Latin-American writer with three names, his books would be described as magical-realist. True enough, but probably not all that important here.
What's important is his characters -- funny, quirky, damaged, frightening, witty, always engaging, always interesting, and wonderfully human. The people who inhabit the pages of Jonathan Carroll's fantasy novels are as achingly real as those you'll find in the work of Theodore Sturgeon or Don Robertson, and by me that's high praise.
You want to know how good Carroll is? After revisiting his work when Open Road reissued a number of his titles as ebooks several months ago, I visited Carroll's web site and read every blog entry (the archive goes back to July 2004), and it was time well spent in the company of a writer with a gift for character, a terrific eye for detail, and a ready supply of quotes from other writers as well.
If you want a nice introduction to his work grab a copy of his short story collection, The Woman Who Married a Cloud. Or The Land of Laughs. Or The Voice of Our Shadow. Or The Ghost in Love. Or...well, pick one -- I don't think you'll be disappointed. And don't forget to check out his blog too.
Find links to Jonathan Carroll's books and blog (and more) at: