Going into this book, I had no idea what to expect. I selected it on the basis of several strong recommendations and a rather whimsical cover depicting an anthropomorphic kite and a six armed creature eating ice cream on a front porch while some malevolent-looking fellow glares out at them from inside the house. Going on the aforementioned, I anticipated some weird and wonderful Alice in Wonderland-like narrative, a gentle Young Adult adventure I could digest like buttered popcorn – light, pleasing, yet ultimately inconsequential.
How wrong I was. Imagine discovering that popcorn is actually caramel coated. And then discovering that nestled alongside each kernel is the tiniest of habanero peppers. And THEN, once you’ve almost finished eating, discovering the fist your neighbor has slipped in through the bottom of the popcorn bag that suddenly spring up and cold cocks you in the face. It’s sort of like that. Except with talking bull terriers.
English teacher Thomas Abbey leads a fairly banal existence, living in the shadow of his famous father, a legend of the silver screen. Then, one day, he decides to change things up. Inspired by the books he loved so much as a kid, he sets out to write the definitive biography of famed children’s author Marshall France. His publisher warns him that the going may be tough, however, given that the last guy to visit France’s hometown received a less than cordial welcome from the townsfolk in general and the late author’s niece, Anna France, in particular. Undaunted, Thomas journeys to the modest community of Galen, Missouri accompanied by his lover, research assistant, and marionette collector Saxony Gardner, an equally avid France fan.
Once there, they meet with Anna who, contrary to expectations, proves surprisingly friendly and immediately warms to the idea of a biography based on the life and career of her father. Thomas begins work on the book and, eventually, romance blossoms between him and Anna.
But as he struggles to juggle research, writing, and two relationships, Thomas begins to suspect that something is a little off about the community. Something is up…but he can’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe it’s the way many of the townsfolk are anxiously following his progress. Or the downright bizarre reactions to the accidental death of a local boy. Or the fact that he just caught his landlady’s bull terrier talking to himself…
What starts off as a quiet and comical little story takes a turn into Twilight Zone-terrain, then winds its way into a weird magical Wonderland before careening headlong into dark and twisted territory. And yet throughout the wild ride, The Land of Laughs proves incredibly engaging, one of those rare books that draws you in and keeps you reading – and reading – and reading – until you realize it‘s ticking past two a.m. and you have to wake up early for work tomorrow. It boasts unique, well-defined characters and some terrific dialogue, in a shifting narrative that undermines any hope of second-guesses.
At the heart of the story is this notion of an innate ability to control one’s environment. When we first meet Thomas he is a victim of circumstance, a man with little if any control over a life buffeted and bundled by elements seemingly beyond his control. And then, after years of living on auto-pilot, allowing himself to be defined by who his father was, he decides enough is enough and opts to take charge of his life. Despite his publisher’s attempt to warn him off, he forges ahead with the planned biography, developing a relationship with, curiously enough, a woman who collects puppets. In time, he forms a relationship with another woman who, in her own way, collects puppets as well – Thomas, as he eventually discovers, being her latest strung-along acquisition. But in discovering the town’s secret – that its inhabitants are the manifestations of a late, great author – Thomas discovers a power existing within himself. It’s a power he uses to save the town – and, at book’s end, himself.
Lots to love and lots to discuss. I’ve weighed in with my initial thoughts and would love to hear what everyone else thought. Let’s see those comments – and questions for author Jonathan Carroll.
A Memorial Day dedication to all of the men and women serving in our armed forces.
Sandra writes: “I was watching “Bounty,” and I noticed several campaign posters on the walls of the high school recommending Peter DeLuise and Damian Kindler for class officers. Were you running for Homecoming King?”
Answer: I was running for President of the Dungeons and Dragons Club. I lost to Carl Binder, a.k.a. elf druid Morgo, wielding his magic cudgel.
Cat4444 writes: “So which one of the pups posted this Tweet? The post doesn’t say.
They’re really learning to type well. Are you tutoring them or are they just naturals?”
Answer: No, it’s all them. And, ooooooh, look closer. There are a couple of words in there you missed.
Dana writes: “Since when has Teyla become Kanaan’s wife?”
Answer: Didn’t you watch the very special wedding episode? Sheppard gives the bride away. No? Hmmm. Maybe that scene didn’t make the final cut. Okay, in that case, I guess it’s not canon and, at the end of the day, Teyla has yet to make an honest man of Kanaan. Maybe in the movie…a big Teyla-Kanaan/McKay-Keller Weddding! Who’s with me?!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!
SciFan writes: “When did Kanaan and Teyla get married?”
Answer: As stated above, they’re not married (yet?). She was holding off in the hopes that something better would come along. Like, say, someone capable of holding down a steady job.
E writes: “Have Brad and Carl shared any updates on SG-1 movie?”
Answer: Not a one. And that’s just as well. I want to be surprised like everyone else when the movie finally comes out.
Trish writes: “I may or may not have entered your dogs into the Mr. Twitterverse competition. Depending on how you feel about it, that is.”
Answer: The dogs thank you. Also, Lulu chews your shoe into a gummy mass.
AnneTeldy writes: “Can you tell us which role he was offered in which episode so we GV-fans can try to imagine him in it?”
Answer: Nope, sorry. I don’t think that would be fair to the actor we did cast.
AnneTeldy also writes: “Mr. M, you said you got my letter and added “I’m on it”. Status update, please? Soon?”
Michelle writes: “ So will there be romance at all in the movie? You don’t have to say between whom. We’ll all make ridiculous assumptions and outrageous demands anyway. Eg, please no McKeller! hee hee”
Answer: Well, now that you mention it, some romance, yes.
Agent_xsley writes: “My question is, has Weir’s story been completed or will we ever see that character again in the movies?”
Answer: Weir’s story ended in Ghost in the Machine. The character will not be appearing in the movie.
DasNdanger writes: “So, are the masked Wraith warriors capable of independent thought, or are they totally under the mind control of the more advanced Wraith? And are they completely sentient, or is that debatable?”
Answer: It’s debatable (insofar as we never actually sat down and decided one way or another) but given the way the conversations in the room went, it’s safe to say that the warriors are on the dimmer end of the wraith intellectual spectrum. They are controlled by verbal command and occasional mental prodding.
Major D. Davis writes: “Are we cool or are you in any way irritated or mad at me?”
Answer: No, no. We’re cool. Especially me. Need proof? I wear sunglasses indoors!
Drldeboer writes: “I’m sad to say it’s also a personal memorial day, my mom passed this weekend after a long illness with bone cancer.”
Answer: Condolences, Donna. Hope you draw some comfort from knowing you’re in the thoughts of many of this blog’s regulars.